After nearly two years of licking their wounds, Ontario Liberals will be coming together on March 6 and 7 in an effort to rebuid their party and unite behind a new leader.
More than 2,500 party members have already registered to attend the leadership convention at the International Centre in Mississauga. For months, six candidates have been fighting it out in a battle to replace Kathleen Wynne.
In early February, however, the outcome became a virtual certainty to many political pundits.
Former Wynne cabinet minister Steven Del Duca captured 56 per cent of elected delegates, with the next closest result belonging to candidate Michael Coteau, with just 17 per cent. Based on the delegate count going into the convention, Del Duca has the obvious advantage if he is able to get most of his delegates to show up.
Global News conducted interviews with all of the candidates to get their final thoughts as they head into this weekend’s convention.
Del Duca played down his election as a foregone conclusion, but said, “I believe that the combination of my skills, my experience and my work ethic positioned me very well to lead that rebuild.”
The task for whomever becomes the party’s new leader will be monumental. The Liberals were handed such a crushing defeat during the 2018 provincial election, their caucus is now able to fit into a large van.
Del Duca knows there’s a lot of work cut out for the next leader. “It’s so critically important for us to hit the ground running immediately following the convention,” he said.
“I think Ontarians will understand very clearly that we are ready for the fight ahead because we know how high the stakes are.”
Premier Doug Ford has repeatedly criticized his predecessor Kathleen Wynne and what he describes as “15 years of Liberal mismanagement”.
On that, Del Duca said, “Over the last 15 years that we did serve in our province, while we were not a perfect government, I do believe we delivered a ton of progress for the people of Ontario.
“I just want to stress we see every single day of the week that Doug Ford is taking Ontario further and further off-track,” he said. “That has to change.”
Michael Coteau, meanwhile, remains optimistic about his chances to capture the leadership.
“I believe that my policies are the are the most comprehensive and actually speak to the challenges people are going through today,” Coteau told Global News.
“I have the most political experience out of the group serving both at the school board and and as a minister for six different portfolios in Queens Park,” the Don Valley East MPP added.
The current Progressive Conservative government under Doug Ford, he said, is being petulant “They have to, you know, just rip everything apart that has a Liberal stamp on it.”
Candidate Kate Graham is heading into the weekend’s convention in third place. Graham, who has municipal experience as well a doctorate in political science, told Global News she is not throwing in the towel until all the ballots are counted.
“I’m not a former cabinet minister, I am a newer face to the party,” she said. “Someone who has lived outside the GTA and Ottawa, all of which I think are strategic benefits for the party right now.”
Graham, who has extensively traversed the province over the last six months, says the party needs a reboot.
“We had the worst defeat in our history, and Ontarians sent us a very clear message,” Graham said. “So this weekend is about the party coming together and deciding to be prepared to actually change.”
Now that Ontarians have had a chance to see Premier Ford in action, Hunter believes that in 2022 the Liberals can win.
“I believe that the values of our party are aligned with those of Ontarians.”
Alvin Tedjo, a former candidate in the riding of Oakville North-Burlington and one-time political staffer, said, “I’ve been doing this for almost a year. So it’s nice to see it come to the end and to see us all coming together when it’s all over.”
“We have to start changing how we support Ontarians moving forward, and we need that with the basic income,” added Tedjo, who has been pushing to merge the Catholic and public school systems.
“We also need an education system that isn’t stuck in the past and is completely focused on the future. And I think that’s what we’re going to bring to this party moving forward, regardless of the outcome of the election.”
Political newcomer and latecomer to the race Brenda Hollingsworth believes the party needs to coalesce quickly to defeat Doug Ford’s PCs.
“I suspect there’s strong buyer’s remorse for a lot of voters who voted PC or even NDP in the last election,” Hollingsworth said.
“People who were looking for change probably didn’t get the change that they were hoping for.”
The personal injury lawyer from Ottawa says that whether she wins or loses, she hopes the ideas she’s brought to the table are acted upon.
“I’d like to see more tech in Ontario. There are big gaps in North America in cybersecurity and data analysis. There are jobs that can’t be filled — hundreds of thousands of jobs that can’t be filled — because there’s no one in North America trained to do them.”
Voting at the convention begins at 9 a.m. Friday morning with first ballot results expected at 1:30 pm Saturday.
— With files from Daniel Drigo