|Steven Del Duca, aka "The Automaton from Vaughan"|
I actually knew Del Duca vaguely when he worked at Queen's Park for David Caplan. I worked then for Michael Gravelle, and later the Liberal Caucus office. Del Duca struck me then as nothing more than your typical backroomer, more in it for the game than for the people.
His campaign now has attempted to reinforce the "front runner" narrative with an ongoing "shock and awe" strategy that makes it appear that every insider Liberal in Ontario supports Del Duca. The release of the specific number of "14,173" memberships allegedly submitted by the Del Duca campaign to the party adds a sense of inevitability to his ascendancy. (37,831 Liberal members are eligible to vote in upcoming leadership delegate selection meetings in early February. Those delegates will vote for the next leader at a Mississauga convention in early March.)
The Del Duca campaign is clearly trying to discourage all opposition to his bid to take over the party. But opposition persists because the unlikeable, robotic Del Duca has got to be one of the worst front runners in leadership history.
I make that assessment not based on his inner value as a human being; I'm sure Del Duca is a great and friendly guy in person (and probably a lovely husband and father). He's clearly skilled at working in the backrooms of the party and making thousands and thousands of friends in high places. Clearly, this leadership race is the culmination of three decades of party machinations, currying favour with other insiders who are now lining up behind the guy they know well.
Few Ontarians outside of Ontario Liberal circles know much about this obscure man, who was easily defeated in his riding of Vaughan in 2018, unlike Mitzie Hunter and Michael Coteau who held their seats in Toronto.
Further, Del Duca oozes that despicable insider Liberal vibe. His robotic and monotone voice, his faked emotions, his oddly shaved head and uncharismatic looks, don't exactly scream "leadership material." His record in government was spotty at best.
His decision as Transportation Minister to ignore the experts at Metrolinx and approve a proposed Kirby GO train station in his Vaughan riding was roundly criticized as the kind of self-serving decision Ontario Liberals got crucified for in 2018. Ontario’s auditor general had little good to say about it. Yet, Del Duca continues to defend his decision, saying data he's found since retroactively justifies it. He never explains the data, of course, or how data can retroactively justify anything if you claim you only make decisions after consulting expert advice and data, not before. If you don't believe Del Duca, he'll repeat this explanation about "data" using his monotone voice until you stop listening.
That may work on ineffective journalists who get tired of asking the same questions. But it'll be fodder for Doug Ford's PCs and Andrea Horwath's NDP who will be able to paint Del Duca as the same old-style Liberal who wastes tax dollars just to benefit himself and his friends. The fact that Del Duca looks the image of a sleazy backroom Liberal player will reinforce those attacks.
The new Ontario Liberal leader should be able to move away from the mistakes of the past and reach out to new voters. That's why I'm supporting Mitzie Hunter in this race, who has a solid record in government and the private sector, actually won her seat in 2018, and is running a campaign now designed to reach new voters who abandoned the party in 2018. Hunter will reach progressive voters the Ontario Liberals need to win back from the NDP in order to challenge the PCs for power. Other candidates, like Michael Coteau, Kate Graham, and Alvin Tedjo, would also have great appeal with the kinds of voters the Liberals need to win back, I must admit.
But not Del Duca, who's been saying Ontario Liberals need to move back to the centre (whatever that means), claiming things got too progressive under Kathleen Wynne. With Del Duca as leader, progressive Ontario voters will be dispirited, likely stay home or vote for the NDP or the Greens, while the Grits go largely nowhere and get squeezed between the PCs and the NDP again. Say hello to another comfortable PC majority.
This Liberal disaster is worth it simply because Del Duca knows the party and knows how to organize fundraisers? Come on, Liberal insiders, what's wrong with you? How can the "Automaton from Vaughan," as I've nicknamed him, be considered this race's front runner?
I can only explain Del Duca's strength so far in this race by pointing to the inherent flaws of the insider bubble. And how personal connections and friendships can undermine decent judgment in people who should otherwise know better. That seems to be what's happening here.
Del Duca's campaign this year and the support he's received from Liberal insiders reminds me of a 2003 film called Shattered Glass. Starring Hayden Christensen, Peter Sarsgaard and Chloe Sevigny, it detailed the story of Stephen Glass, a writer for the New Republic in the U.S. who completely fabricated several of his stories for the renowned current affairs magazine. How did he get away with it? He used his charm, his personal connections and friendships to win favour and eradicate doubt among his journalistic colleagues. His word, as detailed in his reporter notes, was accepted at face value. Even when it became clear he was guilty of fraud, his award-winning journalist colleagues were deeply reluctant to question him. Their emotions trumped their reason.
As Sarsgaard's editor character Chuck Lane says in the film: "We're all going to have to answer for what we let happen here. We're all going to have an apology to make...We blew it! He handed us fiction after fiction and we printed them all as fact. Just because we found him entertaining. It's indefensible. Don't you know that?"
The fiction that Del Duca is handing in to Ontario Liberals is that he's the best candidate to lead the party back from the abyss. And it does appear that many of his colleagues have fallen for it because they find him entertaining, or smart, or to be just such a great guy, blah blah blah.
Like I said, Del Duca may be a decent man. But he wasn't much of a politician. He wasn't good at keeping his own seat at Queen's Park. He's connected with some of the worst decisions made by the previous government and he will wear them as leader. And he looks like a robotic, unlikeable, uncharismatic, backroom, sleazy operator you can't trust with your tax dollars.
It's time for Ontario Liberals to come to their senses. Anyone but Del Duca would be preferable in this race.
Why am I so blunt? Because the future of the province is at stake! Steven Del Duca, woefully unqualified in my opinion, is using all the political tricks in the book to try to win the leadership of the one party I think can actually beat Doug Ford's PCs! I must speak out and try to stop this fiasco from actually happening.