The last thing Ontario Liberal Party needs is walkover Liberal

, , Comments Off on The last thing Ontario Liberal Party needs is walkover Liberal

There are four putative candidates considering a run at the Liberal leadership. Shockingly, they are all current Liberals and each has something unique to offer. So it’s insulting to assume that their talent is ignored by 38 ‘insiders’ looking for another saviour. 

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on February 6, 2023.

Green Party of Ontario chief Mike Schreiner leads a party of one. After 14 years at the helm, he has only managed to get himself elected. He has had five years to grow the Green base after being elected as the Greens’ first member of Ontario Legislature.

It’s been five years and he hasn’t managed to a recruit a single additional successful Green candidate to the legislature.

Yet for some bizarre reason, a few big names in the Ontario Liberal Party want him as their next leader.

In an open letter that landed like a fart in church, several high-profile Liberals including the first woman leader Lynn McLeod and former deputy leader Deb Matthews penned an open letter, calling on Schreiner to consider joining the Grits.

Their rationale was this: “Our party needs to rediscover the politics of purpose and principle…that’s why we’re turning to you.”

At first blush, the letter seems like a call to arms for party reform. The biggest change would be to elect a leader who is not currently a Liberal.

But amongst four potential leadership candidates, three are racialized Canadians and the fourth is under the age of 40. So how is anointing an over-50-year-old white male going to appeal to a new generation?

In the last election, some of the authors of the open letter were actively working for the coronation of Steven Del Duca. The race was finished before it started because the rules were so restrictive.

Del Duca was a great organizer, but a lousy communicator.

Schreiner is the opposite.

But communications is just part of the job. The biggest challenge facing the next Liberal leader is to recruit a team that could credibly transition to government.

Del Duca did a great job in recruitment and had some fantastic candidates who are still working in their ridings.

And that’s what it will take: hard work on the ground. There is no saviour in politics. The party has to do the work from the ground up. That means recruiting new members in every part of the province. It also means opening up to new people. In some cases, riding associations consist of a few people who have been there for years, without ever having won a single election.

That is quite often the case in the Green Party. Look at its current national situation. The last election was a disaster for party, with their leader more focused on party infighting than winning elections.

When they decided to make a change, it was a simple: it was back to the future. Retired leader Elizabeth May returned as co-leader. May and Schreiner have a lot in common. Both born in the United States, they emigrated to Canada.

Like May, Schreiner is a great communicator. But when it comes to organization, the Greens have decided to embrace a leader who took over the party in 2006. Almost 20 years later, the party has topped out at four seats in Parliament and that number is dwindling because of internal party division.

It’s hardly a recipe for government.

Schreiner was an excellent addition to the leaders’ debate as was May, who held her own in every debate she entered. But neither have demonstrated the organizational skills needed for government.

There are already four putative candidates considering a run at the Liberal leadership. And shockingly, they are all current Liberals.

All four have already been elected, and two have served in cabinet.

The party will be reviewing a more open voting process at its annual general meeting in Hamilton next month.

Three of them are racialized Canadians. Mitzie Hunter would be the party’s first Black leader. Yasir Naqvi would be the first Muslim, Ted Hsu would be the first leader of Asian heritage. Nate Erskine-Smith would be the youngest leader ever elected.

Those demographics should be of interest to the “insiders” who want to reach out to a new generation.

None is a saviour.

But all have proven that they are not simply flyby Liberals. Two have been elected federally and provincially in ridings that were very tough to win. Two have survived the wipeout experienced by most candidates in the last election.

Each has something unique to offer. It is insulting to assume that their talent is ignored by 38 insiders looking for another saviour.

These candidates are offering experience, hard work, organizational skills, and a commitment to Liberalism.

The last thing the party needs is a walkover Liberal.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.