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Ashley: Musings of a Convention Rookie

This weekend, I bore witness to an historic victory. While the city bustled on an otherwise typical Saturday afternoon, over 2,000 Liberals – myself among them – converged on Maple Leaf Gardens to elect the province’s first woman premier.

The Ontario Liberal Party leadership race – from its modest beginnings just a few months earlier to its climactic conclusion on the third ballot – had a profound impact on me.   

First and foremost, I was – up to this weekend – a convention rookie. It’s true. For me, it was an extraordinary opportunity to engage first-hand in the political process. Sure, it was a brokered convention. Yet, for all its flaws, it was gripping: Delegates festooned in campaign swag (“I’m with GK”, “Sandra for a Change”, “Time for Takhar”) jockeying for second (and, then, third) ballot support; cheers erupting from one camp (“Olé, Olé, Olé, Olé … Kathl-e-e-n … Wynne Now …”) only to be matched by louder cheers from competing camps; and – the highlight – theatrical marches by Eric Hoskins, Harinder Takhar, Charles Sousa, and Gerard Kennedy as they rallied behind a front-runner.

I’m thrilled, as a young Liberal, to have shared the weekend with the large number of youth who were – quite literally – the movers and shakers on the convention floor. Apathy was AWOL. Our contribution was not lost on the party veterans who congratulated us for helping to shape the future of our party.

Second, I played a part – however small – in electing Ontario’s first woman premier. Kathleen Wynne joins five other female premiers in Canada where 87% of the population is now governed by a woman.

Every delegate had a story about why they were supporting one of the six candidates. My story begins in 2005 when I was elected Student Trustee of the Toronto Catholic District School Board to advocate on behalf of 90,000 high school students. In 2006, Kathleen was appointed Minister of Education. In my capacity as Student Trustee, I worked closely with Kathleen. She was outstanding. I watched as she engaged constructively with students, teachers, and school boards right across this province.

When Kathleen threw her hat in the ring, I knew there was only one candidate in this race I would support. She had my vote. I was eager to share my story with the other delegates to encourage them to support Kathleen in the second (and, then, third) ballot. But after Kathleen gave her rousing speech (which Steve Paikin later described as “one of the great speeches in the history of leadership conventions”), there was little work to be done. Her passion and authenticity captivated the audience. I hung on her every word: “There was a time, not that long ago, when most of us in this leadership race would not have been deemed suitable. A Portuguese-Canadian, an Indo-Canadian, an Italian-Canadian, female, gay, Catholic. Most of us could not have hoped to stand on this stage. But the province has changed. Our party has changed”.   

For young female parliamentarian hopefuls, like me, Kathleen’s victory is our victory.   

Third, the leadership race gave me the extraordinary opportunity to help advocate on behalf of farmers and horse people in Ontario.


The horse breeding and racing industry employs 55,000 ordinary, hard-working rural Ontarians who run small farms; breed, board, and train horses; and provide veterinary, feed, and transport services. Still, despite their important contribution to our province’s agricultural sector, they were severely impacted when the government announced the abrupt cancellation of the Slots at Racetracks Program (SARP).

But it wasn’t easy.

Everywhere I went, rural Ontarians told me they feel shut out of Queen’s Park. Too often, policymakers in Toronto and voters in the GTA (admittedly, myself included) overlook issues facing the people of rural Ontario. I quickly learned that the Liberal party must renew its relationship with rural Ontario if it hopes to form a majority government in the next general election.

On the other hand, the very people on whose behalf was advocating – the horse people – lacked organization. I was shocked to learn that they were not active on the campaign trail (it was not until the convention that I – finally – saw the horse people in action as they rallied at the doorstep of Maple Leaf Gardens). After all, their livelihoods are at stake (!) filled the vacuum.      

Throughout the leadership race, our challenge at was to help raise awareness of these issues among the seven (then six) candidates and, fundamentally, to encourage them to take a strong position on how they would mitigate the regrettable human, economic, and social impacts of the government’s decision. It was a tremendous success.

At the very first leadership debate in Ingersoll, Kathleen pledged to serve as Minister of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs. Because of her commitment to rural Ontario, ramped up its efforts to help Kathleen become the province’s next premier. For example, my friends at and I became Kathleen delegates in our local ridings. From there, we reached out to as many delegates as we could (from riding presidents to delegates on the convention floor) to explain why they, too, should support Kathleen.  

While it’s impossible to measure the impact that had on the leadership race, I suspect that, together, my friends and I helped build strong support for Kathleen. From the day I joined to the close of the convention, I talked to hundreds of Liberals. If I encouraged even a handful of them to vote for Kathleen, then I feel like I played a part – however small – in electing Ontario’s first woman premier who recognizes the challenges facing rural Ontario.

Over the past two months, I have been on a whirlwind tour of provincial politics in Ontario – from my first introductions to the candidates, to the Local Election Meeting in Trinity-Spadina, to the big convention weekend – and more. Throughout this process, I have been witness to the power of public service. The collective stewardship of all Liberals (especially CEO Dennis Mills) – for our party and our province – is heartening.

I look forward to continue working with them to help build a Liberal party that works for all Ontarians.