Saturday, July 9, 2022

What the Ontario Liberals did wrong and where we go from here to do better as a party...

TVO panel June 23 on the future of Ontario Liberals

I have been busy as hell these last several months.  

I lost two close aunts in the late winter / early spring.  For one of them, Joan, I've been working in my spare time as her co-executor on her estate.  

Throw in two big trips out of the country, plus a new promotion at work, plus trying to find time to help out the Ontario Liberals in the provincial election, there wasn't much time for blogging.  

Although I did squeeze in a couple of posts that expressed some hope about that provincial party's chances.  

My blog posts were attempts to look on the bright side and help out my Liberal friends and colleagues who were working their asses off.  The trouble is the offer from Ontario Liberals this election was hopelessly flawed due to the considerable shortcomings of the leader, Steven Del Duca, who was never right for any kind of leadership position.   

As we all saw on June 2nd, Ontario voters agreed and the Ontario Liberals were crushed.  

Ordinary Ontarians and even long-time Liberals struggled to like Del Duca and understand how such a dull, uninspiring, uncharismatic, unaccomplished politician could've become leader of the party.  Some of his campaign policy ideas had some resonance and seemed a nice counter to the last four years of Doug Ford.  But otherwise, his campaign was flat and bored Ontarians to tears.    

Polling averages over the course of the campaign showed the Ontario Liberals going from 28% (which itself would've been the worst showing for that party in 51 years) to 25% by the end of the campaign.  In the end, turnout was so bad that it sagged even further on election night to only 23.8% of voters, the second worst showing for Ontario Liberals in its history.  Even I hadn't predicted the party would end election day that low, and only win 8 seats, again not enough to form an official party at Queen's Park.   

Del Duca had attracted some very decent candidates to his team, but unfortunately most of them lost their seats, even in St. Paul's where Dr. Nathan Stall couldn't get the Liberal percentage of the vote up much.  

In a way, the brutal result had one silver lining: it was so bad that Del Duca had no choice but to step aside immediately.  

A lot of words have been written since describing what the Ontario Liberals might need to do to move forward.  My friend Andrew Perez has some good ideas I mostly support published here.  Others have talked about the need to re-connect with all grassroots and open the party up.    

I'd add the party needs to jettison the backroom types who stuck us with Del Duca as leader in the first place, or at least greatly reduce their power and toxic influence.    

The decisions made by insider power brokers controlled by Del Duca on the timing of the 2019/2020 Ontario leadership race were designed to benefit their buddy and shut out any serious alternatives.  There were some other candidates who ran against Del Duca, despite the odds against them.  But all of them were seriously flawed and ultimately couldn't challenge the stranglehold on the party's machine Del Duca had built up over 30 years working the backrooms of the party.  

None of those 2020 candidates who lost to Del Duca should re-offer to lead the Ontario Liberals for the next leadership, including Mitzie Hunter who showed she may have the stuff of a good MPP, but is not leadership material.   

Those backroom types were of course the same Liberals who drove the party into the ground in the mid-20-teens.  By 2018, the party was near death and could barely run the government, let alone a healthy provincial campaign that could garner support in all regions of the province they had governed for 15 years.  The result was a collapse to just 7 seats.  

After 2018, the work to restore the grassroots and renew the Ontario Liberals into a movement that could inspire Ontarians again was never really initiated.  The folks running the party only thought they needed a quick fix and all would be well if their buddy Del Duca could take over.  

Instead, well-meaning efforts to modernize the party's leadership election process to give every member a vote on the final ballot to elect the leader were undermined and stopped by a nasty bunch of party stalwarts who lacked vision and conviction.  Every single reform to change the Ontario Liberal Party's bylaws in a meaningful way was defeated at the 2019 annual general meeting, which I attended and left early livid at the shortsightedness on display.  Instead, they insisted we keep the elitist party convention system which elected Del Duca in 2020 on the first ballot. 

The Ontario Liberal apparatus that hoisted Del Duca on us got what they deserved on June 2nd.  Have they learned their lessons yet?  Many will bristle with any suggestion their thinking or instincts are part of the problem.  But I hope many of them realize you can't just put lipstick on a pig and hope the public can be fooled.  Perhaps they should start listening to those of us who want something better.  I would welcome those folks and anyone else to join those of us who want real change and a real re-invigoration of the Ontario Liberal grassroots.   That means giving up the power you think you deserve and instead sharing it.   

What's next?  I'll be working hard with other like-minded Liberals to ensure the Ontario Liberals change their leadership process now.  A new system of One Member One Vote that ensures the leadership candidate with the most actual votes from members across the province wins must happen.  Once a process for renewal on all levels, including how we support and promote local riding associations and members, and welcome new people into the party is confirmed, we can then move to elect a new leader.  

Already there are some promising names considering bids.  I'm most excited about Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman at the moment, a popular city mayor from cottage country who ran for the Liberals this year and almost won a longtime Tory stronghold.  I do think it's time to reach outside the only two regions left that still elect Ontario Liberals to find our next leader.  It's time to rebuild everywhere, not just in the GTA or Ottawa. 

I still believe the Ontario Liberals are the only party that can actually defeat the Conservatives and bring back some moderately progressive policies to Ontario.  Ontario voters want centrist government that knows how to work well with both business and workers.  The Ontario NDP will never be able to do that.  

This year, Andrea Horwath and the NDP presented Ontario voters with zero updates on their typical NDP offer of "Stop the Cuts!" (Um, this Ford government is spending more than any government in history!  What cuts?)  Horwath also failed to attract strong candidates you could imagine forming a cabinet.  In the end, the Ontario NDP fell 10 points from 34% to 24% on June 2nd.  Our shitty First Past The Post system handed them 31 victories nonetheless, thanks mostly to shocking Ontario Liberal weakness.   I'm glad that Horwath has also quit.  

But if the Ontario Liberals do the right things, reinvigorate themselves into a centrist, fair-minded, compassionate movement that speaks to all Ontario voters, not just those in the Toronto and Ottawa areas, and elect a leader who can connect emotionally and inspire voters with a vision of this province going forward, we will see the Ontario Liberals finally make major gains in 2026.   It won't matter who the Ontario NDP elect as their next leader after Horwath.   

I don't have all the answers.  I'm going to be spending the next few months and years listening and working with other Liberals to do the work that needs to be done to rebuild a party worthy of Ontarians' support again.