TORONTO — Caucus members, a prominent businessman, a mayor and a federal MP are all mulling potential bids for leadership of Ontario’s Liberal party, but none are in a rush to decide whether to enter the race.
Ontario’s Liberal caucus will return to the provincial legislature next month with eight members — one more seat than before the June vote but still not enough to earn official party status.
They’re also returning with a leadership vacuum after Steven Del Duca resigned on election night following his party’s loss and a failure to secure his own seat.
John Fraser, one of the Liberal caucus’s longest-serving members, will be returning to his role as house leader in the legislature and told The Canadian Press he’s considering a run for the leadership.
“I’m interested in how we go forward,” Fraser, who represents Ottawa South, said in a recent interview. “I’m thinking about it.”
Fraser took on the interim leadership role in 2018, when the former governing party was staring down another leadership void, and chose not to pursue the permanent leadership role at that time. The party was in dire straits financially and in urgent need of direction at that point, he said.
It’s now a different picture, Fraser said, explaining he feels there’s enough breathing room to think through the commitment involved with being permanent leader.
“We have a lot of work to do, but we’re in a far better situation than we were in 2018,” he said. “What I’ve been saying to my colleagues and others is, let’s take time to breathe, figure out what we need to do going forward.”
Fraser is not the only caucus member considering the role.
Ted Hsu, a former federal MP who was elected provincially in Kingston and the Islands last month, said he’s also “exploring” the idea of a leadership run as he and other Liberals take time to understand “what happened in this last election.”
Despite the party’s recent defeats, Hsu said he sees the appeal of the job.
“We all got into politics for a reason, to make society better in certain ways, and making a leadership run is a way to say, ‘This is what I would like to do, this is how we would like to do it,’ and it’s a way of getting some ideas discussed,” he said.
Hsu said his experience serving as in the federal Liberal caucus after the 2011 election, when it was reduced to third-party status, will help him now.
“A small caucus can be nimble and efficient,” he said. “We will try to be effective relative to our size, but I think it can be done. I’ve seen it done before.”
Genevieve Tomney, who worked as an adviser to former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne and worked with the party on the recent election, said there’s no need to rush into deciding on a new leader.
The Liberals should focus on defining their vision and reconnecting with people — tasks for which choosing the right leader will be “incredibly important.”
“We need somebody who has some sizzle, who can naturally attract people to them,” said Tomney, who is currently public affairs senior vice-president at Proof Strategies.
The pool of candidates shouldn’t be limited to current caucus members or people with political experience, she added.
“All options need to be on the table,” she said. “If there was ever a time to take a big risk and to move things in a different direction, this is it.”
At least one possible contender is considering the job from outside elected office — Mohamad Fakih, CEO of restaurant chain Paramount Fine Foods, is thinking about a bid.
Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman, who narrowly lost a provincial race in June to the Tory incumbent in Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte, said he’s also considering a leadership bid.
If he runs, Lehman said he’d rebuild support for the party in regions outside Toronto and Ottawa and offer voters a “big tent” option in a polarized political landscape.
“I describe myself as socially progressive and fiscally responsible, and I think the party needs to show a vision for the province that demonstrates those values,” he said.
Federal Liberal Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, who represents Toronto’s Beaches-East York riding, was one of the first to publicly muse about interest in the leadership role.
He said he’s “seriously” considering the job and will likely decide soon, after considering how the work would fit with his family life.
“It is an incredible opportunity to make a difference by helping to renew the Ontario Liberal Party and to be part of what I would hope to be a really serious grassroots renewal,” he said by phone.
The exact timeline for the leadership selection process is vague at this point.
A spokesman for the Ontario Liberal Party wrote in a statement that caucus members would ratify an interim leader chosen by caucus “in the coming weeks,” with more details on the leadership to come after that.