Kathleen Wynne, a front-runner in the race to succeed Premier Dalton McGuinty, is going on the offensive by calling attention to the fact that, in contrast to her chief rival, she is ready to govern.
With just 11 days left before Liberal Party delegates choose a new leader, Ms. Wynne is sharpening the distinctions between herself and Sandra Pupatello, who resigned before the 2011 provincial election and no longer has a seat in the legislature.
Ms. Wynne said she is running to govern and would reopen the legislature as early as Feb. 19 if she wins the Liberal leadership race.
"I have a seat," Ms. Wynne told reporters on Wednesday, after a speech to the Toronto Board of Trade. "It means that my reality is I can hit the ground running."
Ms. Wynne, who represents the riding of Don Valley West, is pledging to avoid thrusting the province into a snap election just 16 months after Ontarians went to the polls. She would do this, she said, by finding common ground with Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak and New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath.
"I'm going to reach out to both," she told reporters. "I'm going to be an equal-opportunity partner in minority government."
Ms. Wynne is seeking to boost her appeal among party delegates by reminding them that Ms. Pupatello would not recall the legislature until she has a seat.
Ms. Pupatello, who was renowned around the legislature for her highly partisan attacks on opposition members during her 16 years as an MPP, has said repeatedly that she is the best candidate to take on Mr. Hudak and Ms. Horwath and win an election.
Ms. Wynne said, in response to reporters' questions, that she believes she has just as good a chance as Ms. Pupatello of defeating the opposition in the next provincial election, but that it's a question of timing.
"I'm going to reach out to Tim and Andrea, and we're going to work together," she said. "And then when that stops working, I'm going to beat them."
All six candidates in the leadership race have gone out of their way to be cordial to each other throughout the campaign. But with the two front-runners heading into the leadership convention on Jan. 26-27 in a neck-and-neck race, Ms. Wynne, 59, made her most pointed comments to date about Ms. Pupatello.
Ms. Wynne said it is "nonsensical" for Ms. Pupatello, who is from Windsor, to boast about the fact that she is the only contender from outside the Greater Toronto Area.
"I believe that this notion that somehow someone who is from a particular place in the province, whether it's Toronto or anywhere else, can't understand the rest of the province really is nonsensical," said Ms. Wynne, who lives in Toronto. "I have made it my business to understand what the issues are in the north … in rural Ontario, in small-town Ontario and in urban and suburban GTA."
Ms. Pupatello, 50, heads into the convention with the support of 27 per cent of elected delegates, two points more than Ms. Wynne. Delegates are committed to vote for their declared candidate in the first round, so all six contenders are working on picking up support from rival camps on the second and third ballots.
Ms. Wynne said the fact that she was at the legislature last year, during a particularly tumultuous time for the minority Liberal government, also gives her a better understanding of the challenges the party is confronting.
For his part, Mr. Hudak sounded like he is not inclined to work with the next Liberal leader.
"This looks like a party that's interested in putting their own priorities first instead of the priorities of Ontario families," he told reporters on Wednesday.