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Variety rules in Ontario Liberal leadership race

The field of Liberal leadership candidates vying to replace Dalton McGuinty as Ontario's Premier is just about set.

Following Monday's campaign launch by prodigal son Gerard Kennedy, erstwhile Children and Youth Services Minister Eric Hoskins will on Tuesday morning become the sixth candidate to officially enter a race that only a couple of weeks ago was lacking candidates.

The two latest candidates – who join former ministers Glen Murray, Sandra Pupatello, Charles Sousa and Kathleen Wynne – will bring markedly different styles and strategies.

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The 52-year-old Mr. Kennedy, who was a provincial leadership frontrunner back in 1996 before being bested by Mr. McGuinty, could well be the most divisive figure in the race. Having been out of provincial politics since 2006, when he resigned as education minister to pursue federal ambitions, he is positioning himself as an outsider – criticizing both the government's recent labour legislation and Mr. McGuinty's controversial prorogation of the legislature.

While that may earn the former food-bank director a following with disgruntled Liberals who believe their party has been led astray by central control, he will be challenged by the fact that much of his previous campaign team is already committed to Justin Trudeau's federal leadership bid. And with Mr. Kennedy widely recalled as a lone wolf during his time in government, his attacks on his fellow Liberals' record will add to his difficulty in securing second- or third-choice support at the party's delegated convention.

Dr. Hoskins, a former president of War Child Canada who has only been at Queen's Park since 2009, does not have Mr. Kennedy's profile – nor that of other candidates such as Ms. Pupatello and Ms. Wynne. But that could be part of his appeal, allowing the unusually youthful 52-year-old to present himself as a relatively fresh face.

While admirers who have watched the St. Paul's MPP behind the scenes describe him as an "ideas guy," his best play to compete at the late-January convention may be following Mr. McGuinty's path as a compromise candidate. With well-liked Health Minister Deb Matthews having decided not to run, Dr. Hoskins could prove someone delegates are willing to live with after their first choice is knocked off the ballot.

To have that chance, he will likely have to overcome concerns about a thin ministerial record and less-than-thrilling public-speaking skills – both of which will be worries for a governing party concerned about winnability as it heads into an uphill election battle.

With their relatively late entries into the race, Mr. Kennedy and Dr. Hoskins will both face a scramble to sign up new members before sales are cut off at the end of next week.

Still, they may not be quite the last ones in. Although Liberal campaign chair Greg Sorbara said Monday that he does not expect any more launches after that of Dr. Hoskins, Government Services Minister Harinder Takhar is said to still be making up his mind.

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About the Author
Political Feature Writer

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


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