Wynne insider sounds off about last year’s disastrous Liberal campaign

Wynne insider sounds off about last year’s disastrous Liberal campaign

A key architect of Kathleen Wynne’s 2014 election victory has penned a searing indictment of the former Liberal premier’s disastrous re-election campaign last year.

Pat Sorbara, who was ousted from the party’s 2018 re-election bid after an internal putsch, has written a book entitled Let ’Em Howl that could have some Liberals howling.

While Sorbara has some kind words for Wynne, who fired her, the strategist blasts the ex-premier’s senior aides for squandering almost 15 years of Liberal government.

The Liberals won just seven of the legislature’s 124 seats in June 2018 as Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives romped to a majority victory.

In Sorbara’s telling, the seeds of that triumph were sown when she was forced on the sidelines due to the Sudbury byelection debacle in February 2015 that led to Elections Act charges and a trial.

She was kept out of the Liberal fray until October 2017, when a judge vindicated her of any wrongdoing by dismissing the case for lack of evidence.

“When I returned to work at the end of 2017, it was immediately obvious that election readiness was nowhere near what it needed to be five months before an election,” Sorbara writes in the 244-page book published Friday.

“Many confirmed that after I was pushed out, there continued to be very little progress,” she writes.

“I’m not entirely sure what happened while I was away from the team, but my sense was that the premier never again had a cohesive group around her.”

By her own account, Sorbara was an uncompromising taskmaster with “a reputation of being tough and demanding” in a field where men who exhibit such traits are respected more than women who do.

“I pressed staff hard to perform,” she writes.

“When we won, we were heroes, and everyone loved us. When we lost, we were demanding bitches who ran roughshod over people.”

But her hard-charging ways eventually sparked a mutiny in Wynne’s re-election campaign, leading the then-premier to sack Sorbara in January 2018.

“I was a victim of friendly fire, an internal mob hit,” she writes.

“Cold and calculated, planned out and executed by a few who placed their own needs over that of the campaign and of the party.”

Wynne, who has not read the book, declined to comment.

Sorbara said complacency set in around the Grit team in its final years in office.

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“I was distressed (at times even distraught) at the change in the culture I saw happening within the Liberal organization at Queen’s Park,” she writes of Wynne’s tenure from 2013 until 2018.

“Over the five years we’d been in power, there was a concentrated effort to make the political role of staff more about the job of a government civil servant and less about being political.”

At the same time, she writes, Wynne undermined her own brand by selling off a majority share in the publicly owned utility Hydro One.

“The person who made the decision to sell off a government asset and seemingly ignore the plight of those suffering from the impact of high hydro bills was in no way the person voters believed they had elected,” writes Sorbara.

“She had not acted in a consultative way despite her commitment to do so. She ignored their very vocal concerns, appearing to no longer care what they thought. It pointed to what made them disdainful of politicians,” she writes.

“She was part of the traditional political elite and not a true representative of change. They trusted her to be different, but she wasn’t.”

By last year’s election, Sorbara writes that “all indications had been that a fifth mandate was not in the cards and instead we faced decimation.”

But Wynne’s campaign failed to grasp that “the reality was it was time to save the furniture” and focus on salvaging Liberal strongholds.

“The option would have been to determine well in advance the 25 to 30 ridings where we had the greatest chance,” she writes, blasting the 124-riding strategy.

“It would likely have been only long-time incumbents and in the Toronto area.”

Robert Benzie

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

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