Toronto Centre MPP Glen Murray officially launched his bid for the leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party Nov 4 in a room packed with supporters in the Ryerson Athletic Centre, at the former Maple Leaf Gardens.
The openly gay MPP is the first candidate to declare his intentions for the leadership, which will be decided at a convention of delegates, also to be held at the Ryerson Athletic Centre, Jan 25 and 26. The winner will become premier of a minority government heading back into a legislature that is expected to quickly call an election.
Murray’s announcement included the launch of his campaign website, renewliberal.ca, where he’s sketched out platform planks that will make the bulk of his leadership bid and the basis of a potential platform for a general election in 2013: cutting taxes for the middle class and small businesses, improving loans for college and university students, improving government operations and allowing cities to have a greater say in energy and development.
While Murray seemed eager to attach himself to the Liberals’ record in governing the province, citing the government’s accomplishments in education, closing coal-fired plants and building new hospitals as signature achievements, he was quick to label himself an outsider candidate who’s not attached to the way things have been done for the past nine years.
“I’m not looking to be the establishment candidate. Most of my support is going to come from the grassroots levels across Ontario,” he says.
But Murray’s already taken flak from some progressive corners for making tax cuts a prominent part of his campaign. They say it will be impossible for any premier of Ontario to cut taxes without slashing important social services.
But Murray says his proposals will be fully costed and his tax cuts and new spending pledges will come from efficiencies in government operations and redeployment of existing tax deductions into grant programs.
“What I am proposing is smarter government that will restructure the way we spend our money, so there are better outcomes for all Ontarians,” he says. “We have to do it in our existing budget, and we have to do it within a way that will get us back to balance as fast as we are or faster than we’re doing it now.”
No sitting MPPs were at the announcement, and Murray was frank in noting that he doesn’t have any confirmed support from the caucus. He says he draws most of his support from the business community, citing BlackBerry billionaire Jim Balsillie as a key supporter.
He would not say how much Balsillie has donated to his campaign, and Balsillie was similarly tightlipped about his reasons for supporting Murray.
Murray was first elected to the Ontario legislature in 2010 after abandoning a bid for mayor of Toronto. He’s since served in cabinet as minister of colleges, training and universities, and minister of research and innovation. He previously served as mayor of Winnipeg.
A crowded field of potential candidates is already emerging, with long-serving openly lesbian cabinet minister Kathleen Wynne expected to announce her bid on Nov 5. Other possible contenders include former ministers Sandra Pupatello, John Wilkinson and Gerard Kennedy, and current ministers Deb Matthews and Eric Hoskins.
Former Toronto Centre MPP and deputy premier George Smitherman was also at the campaign launch, although he said that while he was there to show support for Murray, he was not necessarily voting for him for leader. He said he would be attending several of his former colleagues’ events, but when asked if he would be at Wynne’s launch, he gave a terse “no.”