Bentley's departure opens door for many would-be party leaders

Deb Matthews, MPP for London North Centre, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, is considered a...

Deb Matthews, MPP for London North Centre, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, is considered a possible leadership contender. (Stan Behal/QMI Agency)

Jonathan Sher, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:16 AM ET

LONDON, ONT. - In a leadership pool that's getting shallower by the day, Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews sounded like a candidate Friday, though she hasn't decided yet to dive in.

A day after Energy Minister Chris Bentley said he wouldn't seek the Liberal leadership or even re-election, Matthews declared she'd be a strong contender if she enters the race and that under no circumstances would she not run again for her London North Centre riding.

"I have absolutely no interest in leaving," she said.

The contrast between the two area MPPs was striking.

In the face of a scandal not of his own making -- the spending of at least $230 million to cancel gas plant deals in Liberal ridings -- Bentley spoke of the responsibility of making tough and unpopular decisions.

But where Bentley explained, Matthews pounced, defending her role in the biggest scandal of her tenure -- Ornge air ambulance -- and insisting she fixed the mess, not created it.

"There's no question Ornge was a very difficult situation. I went in and cleaned it up," she said.

The fiery talk came in a week where two leadership possibles sought the exit door, with Bentley following Finance Minister Dwight Duncan.

Opposition critics have likened their exodus to rats leaving a sinking ship, but political scientist Nelson Wiseman says their departures may very much help the Liberal party.

"Bentley is really tarnished and Duncan is carrying a lot of baggage," said Wiseman, a professor at the University of Toronto.

Other candidates, he said, may fare better making a cleaner break from the Liberal struggles of the recent past.

That may benefit Sandra Pupatello, who did not run in last year's provincial election after 12 years representing Windsor West.

Pupatello is widely expected next week to announce her candidacy for leadership, and Duncan -- a close friend -- has all but endorsed her.

Though Pupatello, twice an economic development minister, would draw support from more moderate Liberals, another rumoured candidate from outside is decidedly from the left, former education minister Gerard Kennedy.

A run would be full-circle for Kennedy, who was the front-runner for leadership in 1996, leading in four ballots before losing in the final vote to Dalton McGuinty.

Also talked about as a possible candidate is Kathleen Wynne, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and Aboriginal Affairs, who distanced herself from McGuinty when she said she disagreed with his decision Oct. 15 to suspend the legislature until the Liberal leadership race Jan. 25.

jonathan.sher@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @JSHERatLFPress

-- with files from QMI reporter Laura Cudworth

Probe of gas plant's cancellation begins

Ontario's auditor general began this week his probe into the scandal that left Premier Dalton McGuinty and some of his top lieutenants heading for the exit doors.

Auditor General Jim McCarter and his team visited the site this week of where a gas plant had been planned in Mississauga, just west of Toronto -- plans whose cancellation the government says cost $190 million, and critics say much more.

"We're just getting rolling," McCarter told QMI Agency Friday. "I hope to be able to report something in the spring."

The task is to calculate the upfront and long-term costs the cancellation will have on taxpayers and ratepayers, he said.

McCarter was asked to do the probe by a legislative committee.

The cancellation of a second gas plant, in Oakville, is being investigated by the standing committee on finance: Ontario Liberals say the cost was $40 million -- a number disputed by the Opposition.

jonathan.sher@sunmedia.ca


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