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Ontario Liberals to announce new leader; Crombie camp says first-ballot win possible

The Ontario Liberals are set to announce their new party leader today, after a competitive race that has seen fundraising and membership swell. Hopefuls (left to right) Ted Hsu, Yasir Naqvi, Bonnie Crombie and Nathaniel Erskine-Smith are seen in a composite image of four photographs respectively taken in Toronto, on Friday, Sept. 30, 2022; in Ottawa on Friday, Dec. 9, 2022; in Mississauga, Ont. on Wednesday, June 14, 2023; in Ottawa on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2022. Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press

The Ontario Liberals are set to announce their new party leader today, after a competitive race that has seen fundraising and membership swell.

Four candidates have been travelling the province to garner support in their bid to replace Steven Del Duca, who resigned last year after the 2022 provincial election produced a second dismal result in a row for the Liberals.

Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie’s team has been suggesting she may have enough votes to win on the first ballot.

She’s up against Liberal MP and former provincial cabinet minister Yasir Naqvi, Liberal MP Nate Erskine-Smith and former Liberal MP and current provincial caucus member Ted Hsu.

Party members voted last weekend using ranked ballots, and staff are hand counting the thousands of votes this morning.

They plan to announce the first round results mid-afternoon.

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The leadership race has seen the candidates sign up a record number of members, with more than 100,000 people eligible to vote for the new leader — up from 44,000 and 38,000 in the two previous leadership contests — though it remains to be seen how many actually voted and how many will stay members through to the 2026 election.

The party also announced last month that it had paid off its $3 million debt from the 2022 election, thanks in part to fundraising during the leadership campaign, which saw the party garner more than $1.46 million in the third quarter of 2023.

Interim Leader John Fraser said Thursday that the leadership race has shown the party has momentum and has four candidates who have all shown they can win elections.

“They all are smart, hardworking people, and they all have the ability to grow,” he said. “So whoever we get out of those four candidates will be the right leader for the Ontario Liberal Party.”

Members ranked candidates from one through four, and points get awarded on a weighted system depending on how many people vote in each of the 124 ridings.

Each constituency association gets 100 points, to be awarded based on the percentage of the vote each candidate receives from members in that riding. As well, there are 10 student clubs that will award 50 points, and eight women’s clubs with five points each, for a total of 12,940 points.

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Voters’ first choices are added up and if one candidate gets more than 50 per cent of the points, then they win. The magic number is 6,471 points.

If no one candidate reaches the 50 per cent threshold, the candidate with the lowest score drops off the ballot and their voters’ second choices are counted and distributed to the remaining candidates.

The process continues for up to three rounds until someone has more than 50 per cent.

Erskine-Smith and Naqvi have endorsed each other as second choices, though their supporters are not obligated to rank them that way.

Most of the candidates do not have seats in the provincial legislature, so if any of them aside from Hsu win, they will have to decide whether to look for a riding in which to run or to stay outside the chamber and build the party that way.

Fraser worked as a staffer for former premier Dalton McGuinty and said as Opposition leader McGuinty travelled around Ontario in a minivan meeting people.

“That’s up to the leader what they want to do,” he said in terms of whether the new leader should seek a provincial seat.

“A lot of what happens in here is important, and what happens every day in Ontario on Main Street in communities is really important too.”

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McGuinty and former premier Kathleen Wynne are set to speak at the Dec. 2 event before the results are announced, as is Fraser.

McGuinty and others are also set to give tributes to Fraser, who has served as interim leader twice, both after Wynne resigned in 2018 and before Del Duca was chosen in 2020, and also after Del Duca resigned in 2022.

He ruled out a third time.

“I’m confident I won’t have to do this again because I think we’re in a good spot,” Fraser said. “We’ve got momentum, and we’re just going to work hard.”

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