Ontario Liberals made history Saturday in electing the province's first female premier, choosing a diplomat over a warrior to lead the embattled party into an uncertain future.
Former education minister Kathleen Wynne won the race with 1,150 votes at the delegated convention, with longtime Liberal Sandra Pupatello finishing second with 866 votes.
"This was the easy part," Wynne told the crowd of cheering delegates at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens after she was declared winner.
"Now we have the challenges ahead of us and we're going to need all of us working together."
Wynne is also making history as Canada's first openly gay premier, a subject she confronted head-on in a dynamic speech that wowed delegates Saturday morning.
Ontario is ready for a gay woman as premier, Wynne told the crowd.
"The province has changed, our party has changed. I do not believe that the people of Ontario... hold that prejudice in their hearts," said Wynne, who is married to Jane Rownthwaite.
She also vowed to recall the prorogued legislature by Feb. 19 and said she would immediately try to meet with the opposition party leaders in an effort to make the minority government work.
There were early signs that Wynne had momentum in the race, nearly tying Pupatello after the first ballot with just two votes between them.
Pupatello got a major boost from Harinder Takhar, widely seen as a stalking horse for the former MPP, and widened her lead after the second ballot.
But Wynne cleaned up as Eric Hoskins, Charles Sousa and finally third-place finisher Gerard Kennedy threw their support behind her, thrusting her to the top from second place.
Sousa's support surprised some observers, who believed the former banker and immigration minister would head to Pupatello's more right-leaning camp.
Sources say Mississauga's 91-year-old mayor Hazel McCallion helped convince Sousa, who holds a seat in the city west of Toronto, to cross the floor to Wynne.
Some speculated that Pupatello's lack of a seat in the legislature and her desire to call a byelection before bringing back the legislature may have turned the tide in Wynne's favour.
Wynne's no-nonsense, professorial style was almost identical to Premier Dalton McGuinty, whose "never too high, never too low" mantra carried the Liberals through nine years of ups and downs.
She may have tapped into a vein of Liberals who want to stick with the moderate, centrist style that's allowed them to maintain power and ward off the Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats.
Wynne insists she's different from McGuinty and the right leader for the times.