Thursday, May 13, 2021

Ontario Liberal leader Steven Del Duca suddenly and thankfully starts to show real potential


I was unequivocally clear in my post early in 2020 criticizing Steven Del Duca as a candidate for the leadership of the decimated Ontario Liberal Party.

The post got a lot of attention, some praise but also criticism.  Many agreed with my assessment of Del Duca's flaws.  Others accused me of hurting the party by being so critical of one of its leadership candidates (their arrogance assuming Del Duca's inevitable victory irked me greatly at the time, although admittedly they weren't wrong about his chances.)  

My words in early 2020 were an honest reflection of my thoughts at the time, spurred on by a desire to stop Del Duca's momentum and wake up Liberal supporters into choosing someone better.  It didn't work.  Del Duca went on to easily win the Ontario Liberal leadership on the first ballot in March 2020, just before the pandemic lock down really kicked in.

Until recently, I had been resigned to the sad opinion that Del Duca's Liberals would never present much of a challenge to the governing PCs, nor even the opposition NDP.   I predicted that next year's Ontario election would largely be a repeat of the 2018 vote, with a likely re-elected PC majority with the NDP easily coming in second.  

But after about 14 months in the leadership, I must admit my thoughts have changed about Del Duca.  What changed my mind?  His late April interview on TVO's The Agenda with Steve Paikin linked above and here.  If we see more of this, Del Duca may have a fighting chance.  

What I saw in this interview were finally the inklings of a clear and coherent message that may indeed gain great traction among Ontario voters.  

Del Duca presented a clear-minded, thoughtful, intelligent narrative, even talking about his own self-awareness, and Doug Ford's lack of it.  It was a message honed to highlight the strengths of his candidacy, and to my surprise, he was convincing. 

Sure, Del Duca is the opposite of charismatic.  Paikin even jokingly asked him about that in the interview.  If Del Duca is wise (and we know he is), he'll continue to play off the humour of such suggestions.  

For we know that Ontarians don't particularly care if their premier is charismatic.  Ontarians mostly just want competence and managerial ability.  Ontarians don't want to constantly worry about how provincial affairs are being managed at Queen's Park; we just want to know that the folks in charge are fair-minded and running things well. 

No doubt, more and more Ontarians are realizing that isn't the case today.  We are currently struggling through the third wave of Covid-19 in Ontario made far worse by the flawed leadership of Doug Ford.  If there were mistakes that could be made by the province in guiding us through this pandemic, Doug Ford made them.  

The Ford disaster reached its crescendo in mid-April when, as things looked their darkest, Ford announced he would now set up provincial border stops, empower the police to pull over (Black) people, and shut down playgrounds and tennis courts.  Absolutely tone deaf.  It took one day for Ford to flip flop on the new police powers, and several more for Ford to finally promise three days sick leave for Ontario workers. 

Suddenly, all the good will Ford had built up over the last year since Covid began faded.  We were reminded Ford is a man governed only by flawed, unsophisticated, pro-business-at-all-costs ideology.  Ford doesn't have a thoughtful bone in his body.  His bravado is only matched by his bullshit.  The emperor has no clothes and Ford is never going to change.  

Against Ford, Del Duca is suddenly looking like a better option.  If Del Duca continues to improve his game, he is going to provide voters wary of another Ford government with a tempting alternative.

But what of Andrea Horwath and the NDP, you might ask?  Sure, they'll continue to have many supporters who likely won't be much tempted by Del Duca.  Before my recent change of heart, it was mere desperation that I pinned my hopes on the NDP to potentially oust Ford from office

But I have to admit I think Horwath has likely reached her peak.  Even amidst Ford's current troubles, her rhetoric sounds canned and unconvincing.  It seems clear to me her best chance to win was in 2018 when she did well but still lost.  It wasn't even close.  I hoped she would step aside after 2018, but she hangs on.   

Ontarians simply are not inclined to hand over the provincial government to the NDP.  Not this incarnation of the NDP, at least.  (Things are different in western Canada where the NDP is more centrist and has a tradition of occasionally winning.)  

We shall see what happens in 2022.  

Regardless, Del Duca finding traction with voters will undoubtedly help get rid of Doug Ford.  It'll help resuscitate the Ontario Liberals and put them back in the game in their former strongholds in and around Toronto, Ottawa and elsewhere.  I'm not predicting Del Duca mania similar to Justin Trudeau's 2015 majority victory.  But I'm certainly no longer predicting disaster.  Far from it.  

Please consider me now cautiously optimistic again about Ontario Liberal fortunes.