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Ontario Liberal leadership hopeful alleges his own party playing too ‘safe’

Ontario Liberal party leadership candidate Gerard Kennedy speaks during a forum at the Canadian Club of Toronto in Toronto on Thursday December 6, 2012.

Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS

One of the candidates for the Ontario Liberal leadership says he is "livid" about his party's failure to make itself more accessible.

Citing sparse attendance at last weekend's all-candidates debate in Thunder Bay, which was a ticketed event, Gerard Kennedy complained in an interview on Tuesday that the Liberals are failing to engage the general public as they select a replacement for Premier Dalton McGuinty.

"I'm not at all happy that they're playing it so tucked in," Mr. Kennedy said. "It smacks of a governing party that thinks it's their conversation. It's not."

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By limiting itself to vetted questions from party members at the two party-organized debates held thus far, the Liberals are trying to be too "safe," the former education minister charged. Mr. Kennedy left the provincial government in 2006 and, among the candidates, has been the most critical of its recent record.

"It's not acceptable that we don't take the risk of wanting to have Ontarians watch and ask questions. There should be online questions; there should be questions from the audience. This is a far too controlled setting."

Seeking to make matters more interesting, he said, he is sending a letter to party officials with "constructive suggestions" for the remaining three debates, the next of which is to be held in Ottawa next Tuesday.

Christine McMillan, a party vice-president and secretary-general for the Liberals' late-January convention, responded to Mr. Kennedy's comments by saying that all of the debates are being streamed online. "The five regional debates are a chance for local Liberals to meet and hear from the candidates," she said.

This is not the first time that Mr. Kennedy has voiced concerns about the leadership process. Last month, Mr. Kennedy flagged the lack of a contribution limit for campaign donors, and said that one should be put in place to avoid the appearance of undue influence by "big money."

With a window to sign up new members having been closed on Nov. 23, there are approximately 45,000 people eligible to vote at delegate selection meetings ahead of the convention.

Sources in other leadership camps have conceded that Mr. McGuinty's abrupt resignation announcement in October has made for a hurried race, with a very brief sign-up period and little opportunity to update a leadership process last used in 1996.

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Political Feature Writer

Adam Radwanski is The Globe and Mail's political feature writer. More

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