TORONTO — Ontario’s outgoing Liberals, who were decimated in last week’s election, held their final cabinet meeting Wednesday with an eye to rebuilding the party that governed the province for the last 15 years.
The majority of Liberal ministers lost their seats as their Progressive Conservative rivals secured a majority, and many acknowledged their party now faces real challenges.
“(We must) better understand why that collapse took place,” said Michael Coteau, the province’s minister of children and youth services who was re-elected in a hotly contested race. “Where was the disconnect between our party, our brand, and the people of Ontario? And how do we re-establish that relationship and that trust.”
Economic Development Minister Steven Del Duca, who was defeated in his suburban riding north of Toronto, said the desire for change was “visceral” while campaigning.
“I think the party needs to take a bit of a step back,” he said. “Do all of the analysis that’s required when you face this kind of result … we’ve done this before and we’ve managed to rise again. And we will, but it will take time.”
In the short term, the party is working on choosing an interim leader after outgoing premier Kathleen Wynne, who was re-elected in her riding, resigned on election night.
Party president Brian Johns has said an interim leader will be selected within the coming days by a vote of the caucus, the presidents of riding associations without an elected Liberal legislator and executive members. Once the vote is called, those eligible have 24 hours to make their choice, with a winner decided by a simple plurality of ballots cast.
WATCH: Kathleen Wynne asked about possible ways to salvage Ontario Liberal Party status
Longtime Liberal legislator Michael Gravelle, one of the seven Liberals to be elected, said the interim leader will likely be someone from within the party’s elected ranks.
He also acknowledged the coming months will be tough.
“You could feel a difference at the doors,” he said of the campaign.
“It was apparent to me that we were in a very competitive race from the very beginning … It will be a real challenge.”
Compounding the issue is the fact that the Liberals are now one seat short of qualifying for official party status, which means they have access to fewer resources and less speaking time in the legislature.
Gravelle said the party will need to rely on the basic resources provided to them as legislators in the coming days to represent their constituents and fulfil critic duties in opposition.
Western University associate political science professor Cristine de Clercy said while on the surface the election results are devastating for the Liberals, popular support for the party still gives a new leader something to build on.
“The Liberal core actually held,” she said. “An awful lot of people voted for Liberal candidates and some of those people were elected. And a lot of Ontarians voted for the Liberal party knowing that their Liberal candidate was going to be defeated. They still voted Liberal anyway.”
De Clercy said the party will now have to get down to the hard, unglamorous work of being an opposition party.
“The new leader will have to teach them how to be in the opposition benches,” she said. “This is going to be Terra incognita. They won’t know how to function really in this role and it’s an important role to help rebuild the party.”
Ontario transitions over to a Progressive Conservative government on June 29.