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Finance Minister declines leadership bid, throws support to ex-minister Pupatello

Dwight Duncan, provincial Minister of Finance, is scrummed outside a cabinet meeting at Queens Park on Oct. 16 2012.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan is planning to retire from provincial politics instead of seeking the leadership of the Liberal Party, leaving the race wide open for other contenders.

Mr. Duncan, a career politician, was widely viewed as the front-runner to replace Premier Dalton McGuinty as leader. But he also announced at a news conference on Wednesday that he will not run for re-election in the next provincial election.

"As the Liberal Party moves forward with renewal, I have decided it's time for me to move forward," Mr. Duncan said. "It's been a great run."

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He said he plans to endorse Sandra Pupatello, his good friend and former cabinet colleague, if she decides to jump into the race.

Ms. Pupatello, 50, and Mr. Duncan are both lifelong residents of Windsor and were first elected MPPs in 1995. The two have known each other since high school and Mr. Duncan said she is like a sister to him.

Ms. Pupatello, who did not seek re-election last year, is now director of business and global markets at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Toronto. She told CBC Radio's The Early Shift on Wednesday that she is "leaning" toward running.

"I get that fire going all over again, and I think, how can I not do this," she said.

Ms. Pupatello and Mr. Duncan were known as pits bulls in the Liberal caucus, especially during their days in opposition before the Liberals came to power in 2003. Ms. Pupatello could not be reached for comment on Wednesday, but Liberal insiders say she is widely expected to run.

"Frankly, one of the kind of regrets of this is I thought it might be fun for the two of us to duke it out in a leadership and see who wins, but that won't happen," Mr. Duncan said.

He was under considerable pressure to run for leader, according to Liberal insiders. But Mr. Duncan hinted on Tuesday that he decided not to run because he was not prepared to commit another decade to provincial politics.

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"For me, it wasn't a quick walk in the snow," he said on Wednesday, referring to former prime minister Pierre Trudeau's famous walk before announcing his decision to resign.

Mr. Duncan, 53, is the third veteran MPP to depart in recent months. Mr. McGuinty announced last week that he is resigning after 16 years as Liberal Leader and nine years as Premier. Greg Sorbara, Mr. Duncan's predecessor as finance minister and co-manager of Mr. McGuinty's re-election campaign, resigned from his seat last summer.

Mr. Duncan was appointed Finance Minister in 2005 and Deputy Premier in 2011. He said it will be up to others to judge whether he will be perceived as a "lame duck" minister going forward.

Mr. McGuinty told reporters at a separate event on Wednesday that he is "delighted" his right-hand man is not running for party leader. He has told ministers they must resign from cabinet if they plan to seek the leadership.

Mr. McGuinty and Mr. Duncan are both retiring at a particularly difficult time for the minority Liberal government. Mr. McGuinty, who spoke to reporters for the first time on Wednesday since his surprise announcement a week ago Monday, defended his decision to prorogue the legislature and said it had nothing to do with the controversy over two cancelled gas plants.

The legislature had reached a point, he said, where it was no longer functioning in the public interest.

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"I blew the whistle and said, 'everybody out of the pool," Mr. McGuinty said.

For his part, Mr. Duncan alluded to the controversy over the gas plants without actually mentioning it by name.

"Governments don't always get things right," he said. "If we had it to do all over again, would we do it differently? Absolutely."

Mr. Duncan said he has no immediate plans for the future, but he did not rule out seeking a federal seat at some point.

The Liberals will choose a new leader at a convention on the weekend of Jan. 25.

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About the Author

Karen Howlett is a national reporter based in Toronto. She returned to the newsroom in 2013 after covering Ontario politics at The Globe’s Queen’s Park bureau for seven years. Prior to that, she worked in the paper’s Vancouver bureau and in The Report on Business, where she covered a variety of beats, including financial services and securities regulation. More

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