OTTAWA — Former Winnipeg mayor Glen Murray is the first official candidate vying to become the next premier of Ontario.
Murray, 55, resigned his cabinet post Saturday and announced his candidacy from Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto on Sunday morning. He said his experience as the mayor of Winnipeg positions him well for the task at hand.
"I’ve been a big-city mayor," he said. "I have successfully led a large government through similar challenges to the ones we face now."
Murray said as the mayor of Winnipeg he worked with people of all political stripes and "delivered extraordinary savings."
The winner of the Liberal leadership race will become premier — but likely not for very long. The Liberals hold a minority government at the moment and the opposition Tories and NDP appear eager to force an election soon.
Dalton McGuinty announced last month he would be resigning after nine years as premier and 16 years as the Ontario Liberal leader. His government is facing numerous problems ranging from unemployment and economic sluggishness to a number of scandals including eHealth, the province’s air ambulance program and the cancellation of two gas-fired electrical plants some say was done simply to woo votes in the last election.
He is staying on until the next Liberal leader is chosen, with the convention now set for late January in Toronto.
It’s expected Toronto MP Kathleen Wynne, the minister of housing until she resigned that post late last week, will join Murray in the leadership race today.
Murray joked Sunday, however, that at this point he is "the front-runner."
"For the single brief shining moment, I know what it’s like to be Justin Trudeau," he joked.
Murray’s campaign already has the backing of significant members of the Ontario business elite, including, it appears, former Research In Motion CEO Jim Balsillie.
Murray was the first openly gay man to become mayor of a major Canadian city. He held the post in Winnipeg from 1998 until 2004. Before that, he was a city councillor for the Fort Rouge ward for nine years. He left the mayor’s office in 2004 to run federally for the Liberals in Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia. He lost narrowly to Conservative Steven Fletcher.
Shortly after that, Murray left Winnipeg and moved to Toronto. He worked as a senior fellow at the University of Toronto’s Massey College and wrote an urban affairs column for the Toronto Star at first. For a time he led the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy.
In 2010, he ran in a byelection in the ultra-urban Toronto Centre riding and won the seat as a Liberal. He was appointed to cabinet a few months later, first as minister of research and innovation, and most recently as minister of training, universities and colleges.
One of Murray’s legacies as mayor was ultimately the failure to impose what he termed a "new deal" for cities. The plan, hatched by Murray and other big-city mayors, would have seen cashstrapped cities find new sources of revenue by shifting city revenues off property taxes and onto things such as consumption taxes and user fees for everything from gasoline to liquor, electricity, even garbage bags.
The plan was highly controversial but the first really bold idea from a city government in years. It was, however, killed when the provincial government under then-NDP premier Gary Doer refused to consider sharing income or sales taxes with cities.