Straight Talk
WARREN KINSELLA - T.O. curse may be Pupatello’s blessing

Ontario Liberal Party Leadership debate was held at the Old Mill Inn in Toronto, Ontario on Wed. Jan. 9, 2013. Sandra Pupatello pictured



TORONTO - Is this place cursed?

Politically, it sure seems that way. If you're a politician, natch, you always make sure to come to seat-rich Toronto. But God help you if you come from seat-rich Toronto.

Case in point: The ongoing Ontario Liberal leadership race. The governing party's exceedingly civil contest to replace Dalton McGuinty has been moving along briskly for a few weeks, and will conclude at Maple Leaf Gardens at month's end. The race features a half-dozen candidates from the Toronto area and one who isn't. Delegate-selection meetings took place over the weekend, and - surprise, surprise - the contestant who isn't from Toronto won big.

She's the Grit warrior princess Sandra Pupatello, and (full disclosure, etc.) she's the one I favour to become premier. Pupatello's got all kinds of things going for her: She's been a successful cabinet minister, she's a formidable campaigner, she's an inspired speaker, she's feared by New Democrats and Conservatives alike, she's been out of politics and far from the controversies that have raged at Queen's Park for the past year and a bit.

But one of her biggest assets? She isn't from Toronto. She's from Windsor, and she's damn proud of it. If you run into her in an elevator, in fact, she'd likely tell you she's from Windsor a half-dozen times before you disembark.

At the start of the Liberal leadership race, Pupatello also told anyone who'd listen that she expected no more than to be "in the middle of the pack" when delegate-selection stuff had concluded. She wasn't alone. Media and political hacks anticipated the same thing.

Over the weekend, however, something very unexpected happened. The frontrunner, Kathleen Wynne, dropped to second place. And Pupatello surged into first, and is now the candidate to beat.

So what happened? Simple. The Curse of Toronto.

Being from Calgary - and having lived in B.C. and Quebec - I can personally testify to the fact that the rest of the country loves to hate Toronto. That may be mean, that be unfair, but they mostly do.

Now, Wynne is a thoughtful, smart, decent person. She's terrific. She had loads of money, she had a well-organized campaign, she hadn't made a lot of mistakes.

But she is also from deepest Toronto, and she literally embodies the place. As QMI Agency's Jonathan Jenkins and Antonella Artuso wrote Monday, Wynne is seen as being "too Toronto ... Wynne's the urban, left-leaning Torontonian poster child they talk about. She was a card-carrying member of the ultimate flake club - the Toronto District School Board - which one auditor described as ‘misguided and dysfunctional' during her term as trustee. She even joined a legal battle to fight a provincial law which required the board to balance its books." Ouch.

Now, being from Toronto really shouldn't matter, but it does. Every card-carrying Grit is aware of the fact that, in all of Ontario's rich history, there has really been only one premier from downtown Toronto (George Drew, look it up).

That's not a fluke; there's a reason for it. In the rest of the province - and in the rest of the country, since the beginning of time - folks have had quite enough of downtown Toronto telling them how to live their lives.

Ontarians, thusly, want someone to be their representative IN Toronto. Not someone who simply represents Toronto TO them.

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