TORONTO -- Former cabinet minister Sandra Pupatello has officially launched her bid for the Ontario Liberal leadership.

She made the announcement Thursday morning, kickstarting a return to politics that many saw coming.

In a news conference at Toronto's Ryerson University, Pupatello said her top priority will be job creation.

"The reason I'm doing this is I want the opportunity to have not just the Ontario government (but) all parties, all of us talking about jobs," she told reporters and supporters.

"It's what I haven't heard much of this year and what I think we need to revert back to."

The Windsor, Ont., native already has a powerful ally in Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, who promised to throw his support behind his longtime friend if she joined the leadership race.

Premier Dalton McGuinty also had high praise for Pupatello, saying she'd bring a lot of passion and integrity to the race.

Pupatello was first elected to the provincial legislature in 1995 and became a cabinet minister when the Liberals won the election in 2003.

She took on various portfolios over the years, from education to community and social services and economic development and trade.

The latter was her dream job -- a file she said she wanted from Day 1.

Known for her high heels, big hair and brash style, Pupatello always spoke her mind, earning her the respect of the opposition parties.

But her plain speaking sometimes landed her in hot water.

She had to apologize for calling Toronto residents "a bunch of babies" for complaining three days into a strike by garbage collectors when Windsor had quietly been suffering through a three-month garbage strike at the time.

Pupatello decided not to run for re-election last year, saying it was time for a change. Liberal Teresa Piruzza now holds her former seat of Windsor West.

If she wins the race, Pupatello would make history as Ontario's first female premier. Her husband, lawyer Jim Bennett, is the former leader of the Newfoundland Liberal Party.

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Charles Sousa is also expected to throw his hat in the ring when he makes a yet-unspecified announcement in Mississauga on Saturday.

However, Sousa hasn't resigned his cabinet post yet -- a prerequisite for launching a leadership bid.

Both Pupatello and Sousa would be competing against Kathleen Wynne and Glen Murray -- both Toronto MPPs -- who resigned from cabinet to jump in the race earlier this week.

McGuinty triggered the competition when he prorogued the legislature and announced his retirement on Oct. 15, saying he'll stay on until a new leader is chosen.

The potential candidates have until Nov. 23 to launch their bids. The party will choose McGuinty's successor the weekend of Jan. 25, 2013, in Toronto.