The past five years have been a challenge for the Ontario Liberal Party.
In 2018, after fifteen years in power, the Liberals were dealt a significant blow which saw them relegated to third place and lose official party status – the worst defeat of a governing party in Ontario histroy. It didn’t get much better in 2022, with the party unable to capitalize on Premier Doug Ford’s missteps and only adding one more seat at Queen’s Park.
In just a few short years, Ontario’s Liberals have gone from a political dynasty to not achieving recognized party status in consecutive elections. But that could all change soon. Even though the next provincial election is over three years away, the search for the next Ontario Liberal Party leader is unofficially underway.
As with any political party, electoral defeat typically means a change at the helm and questions about who can return the party to power. Is it the old guard? A more progressive option? Or does the party go outside the box altogether?
The Old Guard
First up? Yasir Naqvi. Having spent more than a decade at Queen’s Park, including a stint as Ontario’s Attorney General and President of the Ontario Liberal Party, Naqvi represents the old guard for Liberals who longs for the days of Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne. A Liberal MP in Ottawa since 2021, he recently announced that he was “seriously considering” a run to lead the OLP.
The Progressive Choice
Then there’s the progressive choice. Nate Erskine-Smith, the Toronto-area MP and podcast host whose maverick tendencies have largely relegated him to the backbench throughout his eight years in Ottawa. Last week, Erskine-Smith publicly shared that he was actively exploring a run for the Ontario Liberals. “We do need purpose and principle in our politics,” he said. “There is no substitute for hard work and grassroots engagement.” Sounding like a progressive, indeed.
Finally, there’s the outsider. Back in December, a number of veteran Ontario Liberals began trying to convince Mike Schreiner – the Guelph MPP and Ontario Green Party leader since 2009 – to leave his current gig and run for their party’s leadership, instead. Even going as far as launching a public #DraftMike campaign last week. Schreiner may be an unconventional choice for the OLP, but he hasn’t ruled it out yet.
Keep in mind it was only a few years ago when an outsider made the jump from Toronto City Hall to Leader of the Progressive Conservatives to Premier of Ontario in a span of three months. Premier Ford’s meteoric rise is one that the Liberals may be attempting to replicate to move away from the baggage of the past.
The growing pains felt by the Ontario Liberal Party are no different than that of other political parties. But are there lessons that can be gleaned by their federal cousins to prevent a similar fate?
With Prime Minister Justin Trudeau set on contesting his fourth straight election, and the Conservatives opening up their biggest lead in the polls since 2015, a lot of questions are being asked about what the federal Liberals need to do to win the next election. Do they pivot toward the political centre to appeal to centrist swing voters and small-c conservatives, or double down on their more progressive-minded coalition to attract the support of NDP voters?
Only time will tell. But one thing is certain – the upcoming budget will offer some answers into how Prime Minister Trudeau and his team plan to govern for the rest of their mandate.