Ontario Liberals ponder their future as 2 of 7 MPPs depart

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You can almost hear Freddie Mercury’s voice resonating through the fourth floor of Legislative Assembly where the remaining Liberal MPPs have their offices.

“And another one gone and another one gone. Another one bites the dust,” goes the old Queen anthem.

Two of the seven Liberals to survive last June’s drubbing at the polls have announced in the past week that they are leaving provincial politics.

MPP Nathalie Des Rosiers (Ottawa-Vanier) said Thursday she will step down this summer when she is officially becomes principal of Massey College at the University of Toronto.

Her decision came after MPP Marie-France Lalonde (Orléans) revealed Monday she would be seeking the federal Liberal nomination in her home riding for the Oct. 21 election.

Gallows humour aside, Liberals privately confide that the timing is inopportune for the departures of Des Rosiers and Lalonde.

More than 800 party delegates are expected at the Ontario Liberals’ annual general meeting at the International Centre in Mississauga on June 7.

They had hoped to be focused on rebuilding and their forthcoming leadership contest instead of worrying about two Ottawa byelections expected early next year.

“This is not helpful,” admitted another senior Liberal, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal deliberations.

The insider noted former premier Kathleen Wynne is also expected to resign her Don Valley West seat before the 2022 provincial election — even though she’s at Queen’s Park nearly every day and shows no signs of slowing down.

“If we won all of those seats (last year), we should be able to hold them in byelections — especially with Ford’s cuts to Toronto and his attacks on Franco-Ontarians,” the Liberal said.

That refers to the premier’s recent $177-million reduction in annual transfers to the city and last fall’s controversial elimination of the French-language services commissioner.

“But it’s a big commitment of time and resources when we have no money and no staff.”

Both Des Rosiers and Lalonde were cabinet ministers in the previous Liberal government and had been pondering leadership bids.

A Harvard-educated constitutional scholar, Des Rosiers was elected in a November 2016 byelection the same night as Sam Oosterhoff, then 19, won Niagara West-Glanbrook for the Progressive Conservatives.

That prompted a senior Tory to quip: “They got the law school dean, we got the home-schooled teen.”

Lalonde, for her part, is planning to leave Queen’s Park if, as expected, she wins a contested nomination in the federal seat of Orléans.

That seat opened up after Liberal MP Andrew Leslie’s surprise announcement that he would retire. Lalonde has represented the riding provincially since 2014.

Meanwhile, the undeclared Liberal leadership race continues with former minister Steven Del Duca as the acknowledged front-runner.

MPP Michael Coteau (Don Valley East), another former minister, is running and MPP Mitzie Hunter (Scarborough-Guildwood), also a former minister, is considering a bid.

The party’s interim leader is MPP John Fraser (Ottawa South).

Under Wynne and her predecessor, Dalton McGuinty, the Grits were in power for almost 15 years until Ford’s Tories toppled them last spring.

In the 124-member house, there are 73 PC MPPs — including Speaker Ted Arnott, who does not caucus with the governing party — 40 New Democrats, the seven Liberals, three former Conservatives who now sit as Independents, and one Green.

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie





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