TORONTO, Cananda - Gerard Kennedy, who has two failed Liberal leadership bids under his belt — one provincial and one federal — says he's the fresh face Ontario Liberals need to reboot the party.
The former MPP says being away from provincial politics for years, during which the Liberal government was rocked by scandals, will help his chances of becoming the party's new leader at the leadership convention Jan. 25-27.
"Part of my decision was based on coming back and being able to deal with the problems ... and I think I can be believed because I'm not in any way contradicting myself or finding myself having to back up," he said in a recent interview.
"So I’m as close to a fresh reboot as the Liberal party can get."
Defeated by Dalton McGuinty on the last ballot in the 1996 Ontario Liberal leadership convention, Kennedy says he is pleased this time around he's not the candidate to beat.
"The front runner gets subject to incessant attacks — not that it hurt me or anything, just kidding — but it is what can happen in those circumstances."
Kennedy has the support of 14 per cent of the delegates who will vote for the new leader, behind Sandra Pupatello at 27.4 per cent, and Kathleen Wynne at 25.2 per cent. All three are former education ministers.
In recent years, the Liberals have been plagued with scandals, including the cancellation of two gas plants at a cost to taxpayers of at least $230 million, a police probe at the Ornge air ambulance service and a nasty fight with public school teachers over wage freeze legislation.
They were reduced to a minority in 2011 in part because of anger in rural and small town Ontario over industrial wind turbines, and the decision to scrap the $330 million that went to the horse racing sector.
The party has to do a better job of listening to people and giving communities a say in the location of energy projects, and part of that will be accepting ideas from outside the centre, said Kennedy.
"What I'm basically saying is let's be the first political party to get a grip on this unhealthy concentration of power in the leaders' office," he said.
"We better fix our own house before we start prescribing for society and elsewhere, because people are going to want to know what's different. When you're a little low on the credibility tank, your actions speak louder, so that's part of what I'm bringing in."
Kennedy also wants the party to involve the public more in the government's decisions.
McGuinty angered the opposition parties when he prorogued the legislature Oct. 15, the night he announced his surprise resignation, shutting down all legislative committees until after the Liberals pick his successor.
"It's time to change the style of leadership of the party," said Kennedy.
"I think I'm the right amount of change."
Kennedy, who lost his seat in the House of Commons in 2011, does not have a seat in the provincial legislature, but vowed to seek one in a byelection rather than call a general election this year if he becomes premier.
"It doesn't matter what kind of bump or anything there is in the polls, I'm not going to be triggering an election," he said.
Kennedy, a former director of the Daily Bread Food Bank in Toronto, said he wants to get the "hyper-partisanship out of the house proceedings" and would give the Conservatives and New Democrats "a significant role" in drafting the next budget in an effort to make minority government work.
The first order of business if he becomes premier will be a throne speech outlining the government's new priorities, added Kennedy.
"I don't think it's been entirely clear to people where we're going, so there has to be a strategic direction in the throne speech and people have to know what we think is more important and less, and have to know where we're going to willingly compromise," he said.
"We have a mandate that is about that in terms of the other parties and the feedback we get from the public, that's the nature of minority."
Kennedy, 52, is married with two children, a 15-year-old daughter and a son aged 11.
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