Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Ontario Liberal leadership race heats up with controversial calls for Green leader defection...

Oh, it must suck a bit to be an Ontario New Democrat these days.  

After dropping 10 points in the popular vote (and losing about 800,000 votes) between the 2018 and 2022 provincial elections, as well as losing almost 25% of their seats, former NDP Leader Andrea Horwath finally quit last year, making way for a leadership race that was supposed to reinvigorate the movement and solidify their place as the official alternative to Doug Ford's Tories.  

Instead, their leadership race was a snooze fest with only one candidate putting her name forward, Marit Stiles, who won by acclamation.  She has yet to formally take over, but this could be the quietest change of leadership in recent Ontario history.  

By contrast, before the Ontario Liberal leadership race to replace Steven Del Duca even begins, it seems to be garnering more interest from the press and the public than the NDP race ever did.  

Stiles has many strengths, but it remains to be seen how well the downtown Toronto MPP will connect with Ontario voters in the regions that voted NDP when Horwath was leader. 

Horwath's major political success as Ontario NDP leader, I'd say, was gradually winning over voters in most urban centres outside the GTA.  As the previous Liberal government grew long in the tooth, the same old regional resentments that have haunted most Ontario governments over the decades took hold again.  Barring a couple of personal local victories here and there, the result was a gradual Ontario Liberal collapse in most parts of the provincial southwest, south central and north.  The perfect anti-Liberal storm of the 2018 election finished off the Grits and left them with only a handful of seats in the inner suburbs of Toronto and parts of Ottawa.  Horwath's NDP swooped up most of inner city Ontario, including downtown Toronto that year. 

The biggest failure of Steven Del Duca, who led Ontario Grits into last year's campaign, was failing to win many of those seats back (or even putting up much of a challenge in them.)  Only Beaches-East York and Kingston and the Islands tossed out the NDP in favour of Ontario Liberal candidates.  The Liberals in those two ridings - Mary-Margaret McMahon and Ted Hsu - were both excellent local candidates.  But they were also lucky their local NDP incumbents chose not to seek re-election.  

In 2026, many of the 31 New Democrats in the current Ontario caucus will have been incumbents for 8 years, which will make many of them extremely difficult to beat.  Yet, most of those seats both inside the GTA and outside the GTA remain the most viable paths toward a renaissance for the Ontario Grits. 

It's quite possible for reasons beyond her control that Stiles from downtown Toronto will fail to impress voters in the regions.  This creates a huge opportunity for the Ontario Liberals, should they play their cards right in the ongoing leadership race.  

But the best path forward for Ontario Liberals is still being hotly debated.  

Many agree that the Ontario Liberals need to break from their past and forge a new path toward renewal.  For some, that means former Wynne or McGuinty cabinet ministers simply won't work as the next leader.  

Some Liberals also believe a return to pragmatic, centrist policies that veer left on some issues (environment, poverty) and veer right on others (fiscal responsibility, economic development) is the best approach. 

Many also think electing another Toronto area leader after Kathleen Wynne and Steven Del Duca would be a mistake.  Based on history, they do have a point.  Voters in regions outside the GTA tend to mistrust GTA leaders whom they assume will approach government through a Toronto-centric lens.  For proof of this, witness the Ontario Liberal collapse in the regions which I referenced above.  

The thinking is a new leader from outside the GTA will be able to connect with voters outside the GTA, win back those ridings from the NDP, challenge the Tories everywhere and catapult the Grits back to second place and perhaps higher.  

Of course, let's face it, a talented new Liberal leader from outside the GTA will still spend considerable time in the GTA winning support too.  And Toronto remains fertile ground for Liberals, both the 905 and the 416, even though they hold few seats there at the moment.  It's easy to imagine such a turnaround for Ontario Liberals if they elect a decent leader, put out a sensible platform and work hard at rebuilding and supporting local campaigns.  

Enter Mike Schreiner.  Or the campaign to draft the Ontario Green Party leader into the Ontario Liberal leadership race.  

Schreiner is seen by many, including those Liberals trying to recruit him to defect, as a decent, honest person with integrity who is in politics for the right reasons.  His credibility on one of the major issues of the day - the environment - is a huge plus.  Schreiner also represents Guelph, a city that isn't Toronto, which could make him seemingly attractive as Liberal Leader to voters in the southwest and other non-Toronto regions who might be looking for a new home after Horwath.   

I do understand why those 40 Liberals have decided to urge Schreiner to switch parties and run for the Ontario Liberal leadership.  But I also understand why many Liberals think it's a bad idea.  If you'd like to hear some of those arguments, go check out Twitter.  

Personally, I don't see Schreiner as some kind of saviour who, if elected Ontario Liberal leader, will sweep the party back into power or even second place.  He'd have a lot of explaining to do for why he switched parties.  A lot of the credibility he built up as Green leader might disappear if he starts amending or watering down long-time positions.  

As someone who has agreed with Schreiner about the need to unite our public and separate schools systems in Ontario into one public system for all, I would welcome his entrance into the Liberal race.   Would Liberal brass make him change that position for the sake of political expediency?  They certainly would try. 

The only way Schreiner's run would work would be if he holds on to all of those credible positions and invites Liberals to embrace them rather than do what they usually do on tough issues.  You know?  Actually stand for something!  I do believe wholeheartedly that the public supports Schreiner's position in favour of uniting those two systems into one.  That kind of boldness and consistency would inspire and tempt me to support him in this race, were he to join it and remain true to this longtime position.    

Let's be honest: there remains many doubts about the four longtime Liberals currently exploring running for leader.  

One of them, Mitzie Hunter, is a Wynne-era cabinet minister lucky enough to hold a safe Toronto seat.  I supported Hunter in 2020 for the Ontario leadership because I was unimpressed with the other candidates at the time and I saw much potential in her.  But sadly, I finished that race unimpressed with her performance too.  I like her on a personal level, but I don't think Hunter is the leader we need this time.  

Former Ontario Liberal cabinet minister and current Ottawa MP Yasir Naqvi is also thinking about running.  I've heard many uncomplimentary things about both his performance in government, not to mention rumours about his personal life.  For me and many others, he falls into the same category as Hunter: too tainted by his association with former Liberal regimes to represent much-needed renewal. 

That leaves Toronto MP Nate Erskine-Smith and Kingston MPP Ted Hsu, who are both also exploring leadership candidacies.  

Erskine-Smith has always impressed me with his slightly rebellious nature, being unafraid to speak truth to power and ruffle some feathers as a backbench MP.  He's young at 38 and definitely charismatic.  He's been a very consistent advocate on many issues important to voters.  He's never been in cabinet (as a white, straight male Toronto MP, he didn't check enough demographic boxes on Trudeau's list to qualify, I guess) and, as far as I know, has never run anything except for his own career.  Would he strike too many non-GTA voters as too "downtown Toronto"?  Possibly.   

Still, he's got great potential.  If he's able to convert his successful backbencher schtick into a winning front bench leadership campaign that inspires many and stays true to himself, he could definitely win my support. 

Hsu (pronounced Shoe) is a former MP who served one term in Ottawa from 2011 to 2015.  So he's not tainted by association with the current federal Liberal regime.  Now the provincial MPP for Kingston since 2022, he's also not tainted by former Ontario Liberal regimes.  Plus, he's a scientist and seems like a likeable and decent guy.  

But does Hsu have the political smarts and gravitas to become a political leader who can inspire a province to toss out their NDP and Tory incumbents and vote Liberal again?  It remains to be seen.  His leadership campaign is just taking shape and, of the four longtime Liberals kicking the leadership tires, he remains for me the candidate to watch.  

Between these four, I'm currently leaning toward the more seasoned Erskine-Smith unless Hsu finds his mojo and inspires me away.  Hsu, hailing from Kingston, checks off so many boxes: sitting MPP, not from Toronto, not tainted by former or current Liberal regimes, a mild-mannered scientist who could be a nice contrast to the corrupt ink label salesman and headwaiter to the development industry we currently have as premier.  Hsu just needs a story that can compete with Erskine-Smith's. 

Would Hsu be able to connect with the voters the Grits need to win back?  It's very hard and too early to say.  

Would Erskine-Smith be able to do so?  Again, it's hard to say.  At this point, I'm inclined to suspect it may be a hard road for him to climb.  But who knows?  He could surprise.  

It may be that Schreiner, were he to join the Grits and launch a tough, grassroots campaign that allows him to stay true to his integrity but reach out to build new, vital coalitions, might succeed against these four.  Or if he makes mistakes, he could also fall flat on his face and lose to one of them. 

Today, Schreiner said he will consider the entreaty to join the Grits.  We shall see what he decides.  In the end, this race is still very much up in the air. 

One thing is for certain, this will certainly be more interesting than a boring acclamation. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

The Toronto Midtown Yonge Complete Street Pilot needs to become permanent!

For decades, many parts of Toronto have been dangerous for most cyclists and pedestrians.

Slowly, thanks to the leadership of community activists and many others, we continue to see gradual improvements to our road infrastructure that promotes safety for all.  While a fully integrated network of bike lanes that connects the whole city remains elusive, there has been big progress on its creation. 

Furthermore, as a winter cyclist, I can attest that most bike lanes in the downtown core are promptly cleared within a couple days of snowfalls.

The permanent implementation of bike lanes on Bloor West has improved road safety for everyone, without impacting significantly on motorist driving times. 

A more recent major win for safety was the Midtown Yonge Complete Street Pilot which temporarily created bike lanes as well as more car parking and street design on Yonge Street north of Bloor all the way up to Davisville Avenue. 

These bike lanes have impacted on me directly as my doctor's office is located on Yonge Street south of St. Clair Avenue.  Before the pilot project, I took considerable risk cycling north or south along Yonge.  So I am sincerely grateful for the pilot.  

City of Toronto data recently released shows the Yonge Street pilot streetscape between Davisville and Bloor continues to see increased use from pedestrians and cyclists with minimal disruption to the flow of traffic.  This jibes with my experience along Bloor West, where the complete street makes for a safer, more predictable trip for all involved, including motorists.  

It's urgent that the Midtown Yonge Complete Street pilot become permanent, in my humble opinion.   

We are down to a couple of weeks until the Midtown Yonge Complete Street is voted on at the Infrastructure & Environment Committee (IEC) on January 30th at Toronto City Hall.  I've been happy to help out a bit to support the group Yonge4All, including its super-active leader Holly Reid, which has been advocating for the pilot and collecting signatures from residents supporting it being made permanent.  

If you haven't signed the petition, here is the link.   

And please consider contacting Mayor John Tory or your local councillor if you agree.  I'll update this page in the days ahead with more information and ways to support this important cause.