Liberals head to Toronto for crash courses in winning next election campaign
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne takes questions from the media after speaking to a theatre audience in Port Hope about her vision for creating jobs and growing the economy in Eastern Ontario Friday, February 7, 2014. (Galit Rodan / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
TORONTO -- A new leader, a new team and possibly a new election battle just around the corner.
But with spending scandals nipping at their heels and potential voter fatigue setting in after a decade of rule, can the Liberals really hit the reset button?
Absolutely, says deputy premier Deb Matthews.
"We will be developing a campaign that reflects the issues that are of concern to the people, but also we'll have practical, thoughtful solutions that we'll be running on," said Matthews, one of three campaign co-chairs.
Rather than shrinking from the controversies, which include two criminal investigations into the province's troubled air ambulance service and deleted emails over cancelled gas plants, Premier Kathleen Wynne has been very upfront and open, Matthews said.
"Yes, we've made mistakes and she's acknowledged that," she said.
"We have to look ahead, we have to compare our plan for the future with the other two parties. And I think if people actually take a look at our three different parties, three different leaders, they will support Kathleen Wynne."
But they'll first have to whip their party in shape during their annual general meeting this weekend in Toronto, with an estimated 1,000 delegates expected to show up.
Rank-and-file Liberals will talk to the brass about consultations on the party's platform, while Wynne's braintrust -- campaign director Patricia Sorbara, as well as David Herle, another campaign co-chair -- will provide an update on their plans for the next campaign.
On Friday and Saturday, delegates will get training for tasks such as planning for election day, fundraising effectively, communications, organizing the recruiting volunteers and rural campaign strategies.
The Liberals may need a lot of help on that front, having worked since Wynne took over to counter the perception that they're too Toronto-centric.
They're feeling a backlash in northern Ontario over the proposed selloff of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission and the government's glacial pace in developing the potentially lucrative Ring of Fire chromite deposit.
In the south, shuttered factories, layoffs at embattled BlackBerry, government cuts to the horse-racing industry and long-simmering resentment over the ever-growing flock of wind turbines dotting the landscape have been rich fodder for the opposition parties.
Wynne's quest for billions of dollars to pay for a massive public transit expansion in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area hasn't helped their image either, sparking worries that money small communities need for bridges and roads will be siphoned for subways they can't use.
The ripples have spread to more urban ridings, with the New Democrats breaking Liberal strongholds in Niagara Falls and London West.
It's a lot to be worried about, but Matthew appeared confident that Wynne's leadership style can surmount even the highest obstacles in their path to retain power.
"She's got characteristics that I think are resonating very well with the public," Matthews said.
"So we need the public to see more of her and understand that she's the one who's got a plan, that she's got practical solutions to the issues that Ontarians are facing."
But the Liberals have a lot of soul-searching to do first, said Progressive Conservative Vic Fedeli.
"This is a government that's plagued by scandal, brought on by themselves," he said.
Wynne can't wash her hands of the scandals at Ornge and the costly cancellation of gas plants in Mississauga and Oakville when she was sitting at the cabinet table at the time, he said.
"The only thing transparent about this government is the fact that we can see right through them to the real issues."