Would-be premiers Kathleen Wynne and Sandra Pupatello
battled for the lead in crucial delegate selection meetings for the Ontario Liberal leadership late Saturday as party members spend the weekend picking the people who will be eligible to vote for their new leader.
The Liberal Party reported early Sunday that Pupatello, who left politics in 2011, had pulled ahead with 248 committed first-ballot delegates after 62 of 63 meetings from Saturday's voting had been tallied.
The meetings took place in about half of the province's ridings in the north, south-east and the suburban Toronto area.
``I'm feeling very optimistic heading into the next round of voting,'' said Pupatello, who has the most support among the Liberal caucus and cabinet ministers, who are also eligible to vote for the new leader.
Heading into the weekend voting, Pupatello had said she expected to be in second place behind the well-organized Wynne in securing first-ballot support.
Wynne, a former education minister, was second with 229 committed delegates in the preliminary voting from Saturday, while Gerard Kennedy, who lost two previous bids for the Ontario and federal Liberal leaderships, was third with 121 delegates.
Wynne's campaign team said in an email that she did well in the north and in some rural ridings the Liberals currently do not hold, although Pupatello took the majority of delegates in Timmins-James Bay and they took six delegates each in Algoma-Manitoulin, another
Former government services minister Harinder Takhar was fourth with 113 delegates in the preliminary results, followed by former cabinet minister Charles Sousa with 87.
Former children's' services minister Eric Hoskins had 49
delegates, and 33 delegates were elected as independents heading into the convention to pick Dalton McGuinty's successor.
Liberals are picking 16 delegates from each riding across the province to attend the leadership convention in Toronto Jan. 25-27, and voting will continue Sunday in the rest of the ridings, which include the south-west and south-central areas as well as the city
A total of more than 1,700 delegates will be joined by another 600 former MPPs, MPs, party executives and others eligible to vote for the new leader, who will automatically become Ontario's next premier.
Over 44,000 party members are eligible to vote in the delegate selection process, which is the first real indicator of where the six candidates for leader stand.
Former Winnipeg mayor Glen Murray dropped out of the race Thursday and threw his support behind Wynne, who also served as transportation minister and minister of aboriginal affairs.
Pupatello, who served alongside McGuinty in opposition and at the cabinet table, was minister of economic development and trade during his second term, but opted not to seek re-election in 2011 when the Liberals were reduced to a minority government.
The leadership race was triggered last October by McGuinty's surprise decisions to resign and prorogue the legislature until a new leader was selected, automatically killing hearings scheduled to begin the next day into the hundreds of millions of dollars spent to kill to gas plants in two Liberal-held ridings.
(The Canadian Press)