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Profile: Harinder Takhar brushes off 'queenmaker' role

Ontario Liberal leadership candidate Harinder Takhar. FACEBOOK

Name: Harinder Takhar

Age: 61

Riding: Mississauga-Erindale

Years as MPP: Nine, same time in cabinet

Former cabinet positions: transportation, small business and entrepreneurship, small business and consumer services, government services.

Bio: Moved to Canada from India in 1974. Worked during the day, took Certified Management Accountant courses at night. Became president and CEO of Chalmers Group. Was CFO at Peel District School Board, chair of the Credit Valley Hospital board of governors and ran the Peel United Way. First elected as an MPP in 2003 and appointed to cabinet.

Platform: Balanced budget by 2016-17, job creation through tax incentives for businesses, integrated GTA-wide transit system.

On Toronto/GTA: Wants seamless transit through the region, help bring down auto insurance rates.

Personal life: Takhar is married with two daughters. He worked his way up after moving to Canada. He likes to garden.

In quotes: “People thought I would not run. People then thought I would not get the delegates I got,” he told CityNews.ca. “People now make other presumptions, but I will stay focused on what I am doing.”

“Everybody makes mistakes,” he told the Toronto Star in November about being censured by the province’s integrity commissioner in 2006 for violating the Members’ Integrity Act. “It’s not that I gained anything from it . . . people can bring it up, but I think we need to concentrate on the problems the province faces.”

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With the Ontario Liberal leadership campaign in its final leg and shaping up to be a two-woman race, former cabinet minister Harinder Takhar is shrugging off suggestions of his role as a so-called “queenmaker” and insists he’s in it to win.

Takhar, a near 10-year veteran at Queen’s Park, sits in fourth place when it comes to delegate support in a pool of six candidates, including Sandra Pupatello, Kathleen Wynne, Gerard Kennedy, Charles Sousa and Eric Hoskins.

“I’m here to win,” Takhar, who resigned from his post as minister of government services to qualify for the leadership, told CityNews.ca.

Click here to read our complete coverage of the Liberal leadership race.

With Pupatello and Wynne leading the race, there have been reports Takhar could end up as deputy premier. There were even reports he entered the race to back front-runner Sandra Pupatello.

“People thought I would not run. People then thought I would not get the delegates I got,” he said. “People now make other presumptions, but I will stay focused on what I am doing.”

Some 2,200 elected delegates will choose their next leader at a convention at Maple Leaf Gardens this weekend.

First elected to the legislature in 2003 as MPP for Mississauga-Erindale, Takhar, a married father of two, was quickly promoted to cabinet and given the transportation portfolio. He then moved to the ministries of small business and entrepreneurship, small business and consumer services, and most recently, government services.

Takhar, 61, moved to Canada from India in 1974 with a master’s degree in economics and political science. In Canada, his experience and education weren’t recognized and he worked odd jobs during the day and took Certified Management Accountant (CMA) courses at night. He landed a job in finance and eventually bought the company he worked for, Chalmers Group, which was bleeding money at the time, and managed to turn a profit.

His ties to the company landed him in hot water in 2006 when the province’s integrity commissioner ruled Takhar violated the Members’ Integrity Act for not keeping an arm’s length relationship with the business to avoid potential conflicts of interest. Then transportation minister, he was moved to the ministry of small business and entrepreneurship.

A balanced budget by 2016-17, job creation and greater consultation with other parties are the pillars of his platform.

Takhar is calling for the implementation of an Ontario job creation tax incentive that would cover 10 per cent of the first year salary for a new hire, up to $5,000 per employee — an idea floated by Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath last April. He also wants to increase partnerships between universities and colleges and businesses to increase employment opportunities for new graduates.

GTA transit

As a longtime GTA resident and former transportation minister, Takhar is familiar with the congestion and transit challenges facing the region. He’s pushing for a fully-integrated GTA-wide transit system. His first order of business would be to “rationalize” routes, citing overlaps within municipal transit systems and additional fares.

But he didn’t say whether he believes the province should take control of municipal transit systems.

“Again I would like to say I am in favour of a GTA-based transportation system,” he said.

“The thing that we need is a long-term plan which is approved by the legislature.”

He’s also addressing the need for long-term infrastructure funding with savings bonds.

“We need a good solid base to fund this. I’m proposing that we need to have infrastructure savings bonds that we should issue to Ontarians and Ontario-based corporations and they should be tax-free in their hands,” he said.

A time for renewal

The leadership race provides an obvious opportunity for renewal for the party facing harsh criticism for proroguing the legislature in October and backlash over a decision to scrub plans for gas-fired power plant in Mississauga ahead of the 2011 election that cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, perhaps even as much as $1 billion, the Progressive Conservatives claim.

When asked how he plans to breathe new life into the party, Takhar said he intends to “put the power back in the hands of the people.”

“We have to get them involved in the decision-making process,” he said.

While the province is facing major issues, mainly with its deficit, Takhar said voters become more engaged when they see politicians tackling regional problems that hit closer to home. He said there’s a need to bring everyday issues to the forefront. One example, he said, are high auto insurance rates — a cause taken up by NDP MPP Jagmeet Singh (Bramalea-Gore-Malton).

Takhar promises “extensive consultation with Ontarians and other political parties” on a wide range of issues. When asked if he’d be willing to work with the NDP on the insurance issue he said: “I will be open to any idea; it doesn’t matter where it comes from.”