TORONTO – The Ontario Liberal party has selected Friday, January 25, 2013 as the date to elect a new leader who will take the reins from outgoing Premier Dalton McGuinty and eventually recall the provincial legislature.
McGuinty, who shocked the public with his surprise resignation last Monday, has said his successor must decide when to bring back the legislature which he prorogued as he stepped down.
The only thing to still be decided is where this convention will be held. The party requires a large venue that is not already booked for that weekend.
It will be a delegated convention among 2,500 who will be selected by riding associations throughout the province on January 12 and 13. Each riding can send up to 16 delegates to the convention.
Potential candidates have to declare they are in by the November 29 with an entry fee of $50,000 and a spending limit of $500,000.
The early front-runners include finance minister Dwight Duncan, Ontario Housing Minister Kathleen Wynne, Health Minister Deb Matthews and Energy Minister Chris Bentley.
Duncan said a leadership bid is a huge commitment at his age — and for the rest of his professional career — to either be premier or rebuild the minority Liberals if they lose the next election.
John Wilkinson, the former environment and revenue minister who lost his seat in last year’s election, has also been mentioned as a possible candidate, as have former ministers George Smitherman and Sandra Pupatello.
All of them would have to resign their cabinet positions if they want to run for the top job. It would mean a pay cut of $50,000 and and the cabinet staff that goes along with the job.
One high profile potential leadership candidate bowed out of the contest Sunday.
Ontario Liberal party president Yasir Naqvi said it was a “very personal decision” not to run for the party leadership.
“As the father of five-month old Rafi, I had to think long and hard,” he said in a statement. “First and foremost, I am Rafi’s dad, and being a father is my most important new job.”
Speculation that Naqvi would run grew last week when he recused himself from a conference call on the leadership convention, but wouldn’t confirm whether he intended to run for leader.
The new premier is expected to recall the legislature with a throne speech on the February 18.
Meanwhile, the opposition parties — who have been infuriated with the prorogation — were quick to argue that the date created too long a wait for a new legislative session.
The Progressive Conservatives and NDP continued to call on McGuinty to reverse his decision to pull the plug on political proceedings. They say Queen’s Park was prorogued so the government could avoid scrutiny over its decision to cancel two power stations.
NDP house leader Gilles Bisson said in a release that waiting until early next year to bring the legislature back is simply not in the best interests of Ontarians.
“People want MPPs back to work — this year not next. The McGuinty Liberals can’t shut down the Legislature until 2013,” Bisson said.
Tory MPP Lisa MacLeod said there’s no reason a Liberal leadership race couldn’t be held with the legislature sitting.
“It’s disgraceful that they want to hold the assembly hostage this long,” she said. “It’s very clear that we could still be having the house in session while they have their leadership (contest).”
— with files from Will Campbell, The Canadian Press