Ontario Liberals won’t change the way they choose their next leader

Ontario Liberals won’t change the way they choose their next leader

A push to have the Ontario Liberal Party abandon old-style delegated leadership conventions in favour of a more open one member, one vote system has failed.

While 57 per cent of the 1,000 delegates in attendance at the International Centre in Mississauga backed the change Saturday, it did not meet the 66 per cent threshold for a constitutional change.

That means only party insiders will get to vote for the new leader at a March 7 convention at this same venue near Pearson International Airport.

“The party’s just made an incredibly short-sighted decision,” said veteran organizer Patricia Sorbara, a key architect of former premier Kathleen Wynne’s 2014 majority election victory.

“We’re not showing that we’re prepared to modernize and then to move forward and give everybody an equal voice at the table,” said a disappointed Sorbara.

One reason the crusade for one member, one vote was unsuccessful was the cautionary tale of the past two Progressive Conservative leadership contests being won by interlopers.

In both 2015, when Patrick Brown was victorious, and 2018, when Doug Ford triumphed, the consensus establishment favourite, Christine Elliott, finished second.

Elliott, who is now deputy premier and health minister, would probably have been more successful in a delegated convention than a one member, one vote scenario where selling memberships takes precedence over deep roots in the party.

Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser, noting party members voted twice on the amendment Saturday due to irregularities, said “it was a really healthy debate” on whether to make a change.

Fraser insisted “it is not an elitist system” and played down comparisons to the Tories’ experience in 2015 and 2018.

“The thing about electoral processes is they all have potential for flaws,” he told reporters.

Steven Del Duca, the former transportation minister and front-runner for the March 7 leadership, said if he becomes leader he will strike a task force to reconsider one member, one vote.

“It really is important for us to pivot and be united as a political family and be prepared to modernize,” said Del Duca, who was neutral on the issue and did not vote on it.

“We have to respect the voices of those who felt very passionately that we can do better in this process,” he said.

Del Duca said “if I was Doug Ford I’d be awfully scared of” the enthusiasm of so many Grits gathered inside a cavernous convention centre on the first sunny weekend of June.

MPP Michael Coteau (Don Valley East), another top leadership candidate, said the 57 per cent vote in favour of change is proof “that people are not satisfied with the status quo.”

“It’s time for change in the Ontario Liberal Party,” said Coteau, a former social services minister.

“If you’re in the room today you could feel that people want to see something different,” he said.

“They’re not satisfied with the way things have happened in the past and they want to change the way we pick our leader so every vote counts. The status quo is simply not right.”

Alvin Tedjo, a former Liberal candidate in Oakville-North Burlington, who is also running for leader, said he was “heartened” that a majority of Liberals want a change even if it fell short of the supermajority threshold.

“Having 1,000 people at this convention right now shows that people are really engaged and really excited,” said Tedjo.

MPP Mitzie Hunter (Scarborough-Guildwood), who was a leading proponent of the one member, one vote amendment, said she is still finalizing whether she’s going to run for leader.

“That is something that I am currently putting together,” said the former education minister.

Hunter insisted that the party sticking with a delegated convention does not derail her leadership aspirations.

“I don’t see this as a setback. It’s not about Mitzie, it’s about our membership,” she said. “I see this as the membership at the grassroots level saying that they want a voice in this party.”

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