“It doesn’t surprise me in the least that federal interests are courting Gerard Kennedy,” McGuinty said Wednesday after the Toronto Star disclosed Kennedy is poised to make the leap to national politics.
“He’s a very capable guy, highly regarded by myself and many others. I would argue that he is the strongest champion public schools have ever had in the province of Ontario.”
McGuinty said it is his “fervent hope that he will continue to assume his responsibilities here with our government.”
Still, McGuinty emphasized that he would not stand in the way of Kennedy, 45, who finished second to him in the 1996 provincial Liberal leadership race.
“All I’m going to say is I’ve made it clear to Gerard directly and I’m making it clear to Ontarians now that it’s certainly my hope that he will continue to assume his responsibilities as our fantastic minister of education,” he said.
McGuinty refused to say if he would force Kennedy to quit as an MPP if he entered the race.
“I’m not going to speculate about the outcome.”
When asked what Kennedy told him during a recent private chat about the federal contest, McGuinty quipped: “He just said, `You’re a great premier.’”
The education minister, who has been coy about his plans, sounded intrigued by the chance to lead the federal Liberals against Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives.
“I haven’t ruled anything in or out in terms of that,” said Kennedy, who hails from Manitoba, lived in Alberta, speaks French and is married to an Acadian from Prince Edward Island.
“The fact is that people have talked to me about that,” the minister said, adding he is receiving the full-court press from supporters who “couch it in terms like the future of the country” is at stake.
“There is no campaign, there is no structure, there is nothing about going forward. There simply is me doing this job and I am certainly talking to the premier about anything else that comes up that could potentially get in the way of that,” he said.
“I’ve discouraged people in terms of doing anything that would interfere with this government or these responsibilities. I have had some private conversations, I’ve never said otherwise. People have approached me. I’ve been respectful. I’ve listened to those things.”
Other potential candidates include former NDP premier Bob Rae, MPs Carolyn Bennett, Scott Brison, Stéphane Dion, John Godfrey, Michael Ignatieff and Belinda Stronach.
Respected Newmarket lawyer Martha Hall Findlay has already declared her intention to run. It is expected a date for the contest will be announced later this month.