TORONTO – Caucus members, a prominent businessman, a mayor and a federal parliamentarian are considering potential bids for the leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party, but none are in a rush to decide whether to enter the race.
The Ontario Liberal Caucus will return to the provincial legislature next month with eight members, one more seat than before the June vote, but still not enough to gain official party status.
They also return with a leadership vacuum after Steven Del Duca resigned on election night following his party’s loss and failure to secure his own seat.
John Fraser, one of the longest-serving members of the Liberal caucus, will return to his role as House Speaker in the legislature and told The Canadian Press that he is considering running for the leadership.
“I’m interested in how we move forward,” Fraser, who represents the Ottawa South, said in a recent interview. “I’m thinking about it.”
Fraser assumed the interim leadership role in 2018, when the former ruling party was facing another leadership vacuum, and chose not to serve in the permanent leadership role at that time. The party was in dire financial straits and badly needed direction at the time, he said.
It’s a different picture now, Fraser said, explaining that he feels there is enough breathing room to think about the commitment that comes with being a permanent leader.
“We have a lot of work to do, but we are in a much better situation than in 2018,” he said. “What I’ve been saying to my colleagues and to others is, let’s take some time to breathe, let’s figure out what we need to do going forward.”
Fraser isn’t the only caucus member considering the role.
Ted Hsu, a former federal MP who was provincially elected in Kingston and the Islands last month, said he is also “exploring” the idea of a leadership bid as he and other Liberals take time to understand “what happened in this last choice”.
Despite recent party losses, Hsu said he sees the appeal of the job.
“We all go into politics for a reason, to improve society in some way, and making a run for leadership is a way of saying, ‘This is what I’d like to do, this is how we’d like to do it.’ and it’s a way for some ideas to be discussed,” he said.
Hsu said his experience as a member of the federal Liberal caucus after the 2011 election, when he was reduced to third-party status, will help him now.
“A small caucus can be agile and efficient,” he said. “We will try to be effective relative to our size, but I think it can be done. I’ve seen it done before.
Genevieve Tomney, who worked as an adviser to former Liberal Prime Minister Kathleen Wynne and worked with the party in recent elections, said there is no need to rush to pick a new leader.
Liberals should focus on defining their vision and reconnecting with the people, tasks for which choosing the right leader will be “incredibly important.”
“We need someone who has a spark, who can naturally draw people in,” said Tomney, who is currently senior vice president of public affairs at Proof Strategies.
The pool of candidates should not be limited to current caucus members or people with political experience, he added.
“All options must be on the table,” he said. “If ever there was a time to take a big risk and move things in a different direction, this is it.”
At least one potential contender is considering the job outside of elected office: Mohamad Fakih, CEO of the Paramount Fine Foods restaurant chain, is eyeing an offer.
Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman, who narrowly lost a provincial race in June to the Tory incumbent in Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte, said he is also considering a leadership offer.
If he does run, Lehman said he would rebuild support for the party in regions outside of Toronto and Ottawa and offer voters a “big-tent” option in a polarized political landscape.
“I describe myself as socially progressive and fiscally responsible, and I think the party needs to show a vision for the province that demonstrates those values,” he said.
Federal Liberal Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, who represents Toronto’s Beaches-East York riding, was one of the first to publicly reflect on interest in the leadership role.
He said he is “seriously” considering the job and will likely decide soon after considering how the job would fit in with his family life.
“It’s an incredible opportunity to make a difference by helping renew the Ontario Liberal Party and be part of what I hope will be a really serious grassroots renewal,” he said by phone.
The exact timeline for the leadership selection process is vague at this time.
A spokesman for the Liberal Party of Ontario wrote in a statement that caucus members would ratify an interim leader chosen by the caucus “in the coming weeks,” with more details on leadership to come after that.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 8, 2022.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION