Jan. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Provincial lawmaker Kathleen Wynne was chosen as leader of the ruling Ontario Liberal Party, beating out Sandra Pupatello and four other candidates during the party’s leadership contest. She’ll be the first female premier of Canada’s most populous province.
Wynne, 59, gained the majority of support of delegates who voted at yesterday’s leadership convention in Toronto, defeating Pupatello, 50, in the third ballot. Wynne succeeds Dalton McGuinty, who on Oct. 15 said he’s stepping down after nine years as premier and 16 years as Liberal leader.
“This is going to be a great government, and we’re going to build on the legacy of Dalton,” Wynne said in her victory speech.
The Liberals hold 53 of the 107 seats in the provincial legislature, meaning they need some support from opposition lawmakers to pass budgets and remain in power. The Progressive Conservatives have 36 seats and the New Democratic Party has 18.
According to poll-tracking website ThreeHundredEight.com, Liberal support in recent surveys has averaged about 27 percent, putting them seven percentage points behind the Progressive Conservatives and three behind the New Democrats.
“Wynne is going to have big problems because she is more closely identified with McGuinty,” said Nelson Wiseman, a University of Toronto associate professor of political science, who expected Pupatello to win.
McGuinty’s resignation came as opposition lawmakers accused his government of hiding the costs related to the cancellation of two power-plant projects, and refused to support a wage freeze for public employees to curb the province’s deficit. McGuinty said at the time of his resignation that he wants to allow his party to renew itself, and to spend more time with his family.
Wynne, a Toronto resident, won the Liberal leadership race after getting 1,150 votes in the final round of voting, compared with 866 for Pupatello. She gained support of candidates Gerard Kennedy and Charles Sousa who both withdrew from the contest after the second ballot, and Eric Hoskins who was eliminated after the first round of voting.
“The Liberal Party has decided to tack to the center left from the center right,” Wiseman said in a telephone interview from Toronto. “The focus will be more on the social policy side, rather than economic policy, which is what it would have been under Pupatello.”
Ontario is home to much of Canada’s manufacturing industry, which has struggled in recent years amid a strong Canadian dollar and sluggish demand from the U.S. The province’s unemployment rate was 7.9 percent in December, above the national rate of 7.1 percent.
The province has about C$256 billion of debt outstanding, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said Jan. 22 the province’s deficit in the fiscal year that began in April will be C$11.9 billion ($12 billion), less than the C$14.8 billion he previously forecast. The province plans to return to a balanced budget in 2017.
Moody’s Investors Services downgraded Ontario’s credit rating in April, citing the province’s growing debt burden and slowing economic growth. Since the downgrade, the Ontario government has fought with public workers’ unions to institute a wage freeze and levied a 2 percent surtax on wage earners of C$500,000 ($497,000) or more.
The victory for Wynne, who’ll be Canada’s first openly gay premier, puts women in charge of provincial governments overseeing about 90 percent of Canada’s economy and population.
In Quebec, the French-speaking region with about 24 percent of the population, Pauline Marois, 63, of the Parti Quebecois party took power in a Sept. 4 election. In Alberta, home to the country’s booming oil industry, Conservative Alison Redford, 47, became leader in October 2011 and won an election six months later. And in British Columbia, Liberal Christy Clark, 47, took over from Gordon Campbell as premier in 2011.
Wynne was first elected to Ontario’s provincial parliament in 2003. She was re-elected to her third term in October 2011.