Some 30,000 people who paid $20 to join the Ontario Liberals will select the delegates who get to choose the next leader of the moribund party.
The deadline for enlisting in the Grits, who governed from 2003 until being toppled last year by Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives, passed Monday.
But the Liberals said the party is “verifying membership forms and will provide an official tally as soon as that process is complete.”
“This will take a couple of days,” an official said Tuesday.
Sources, speaking confidentially in order to discuss internal machinations, said party enrolment has ballooned from 8,900 last summer to around 30,000.
If membership sales are any indication, former minister Steven Del Duca is the front-runner in a six-person contest to be determined by about 1,500 delegates at a convention in Mississauga on March 7.
Del Duca, who lost Vaughan-Woodbridge to Tory Michael Tibollo in the June 2018 landslide, sold 14,173 memberships.
“For Ontario Liberals the fight to defeat Doug Ford is the fight of our lives. Our kids’ education is on the line. Health care is on the line. Climate change is on the line. We cannot afford to fail,” he said.
“My campaign team and I have worked very hard to grow our party by reaching out both to entirely new people and to Liberals who had stepped back from the party.”
MPP Michael Coteau (Don Valley East), also a former minister, sold 8,500 memberships.
“This is a very competitive race. It is now clear that no single candidate has signed up more than half of the party membership,” said Coteau’s campaign manager Sara Alimardani.
“It is also now fully apparent that Michael Coteau, MPP, is the main challenger to the front-runner in this race,” she said.
Kate Graham, who finished third in London North Centre in last year’s election, did not disclose her tally. But she is believed to have sold around 1,500 memberships.
Alvin Tedjo, the runner-up in Oakville-Burlington North last year, sold about 1,000 new memberships.
“As the only candidate who is proposing to merge our Catholic and non-Catholic school boards — an idea that is supported by the majority of Ontarians in all regions and of all political stripes — we have been attracting new people to the Liberal tent,” Tedjo’s campaign said Tuesday.
MPP Mitzie Hunter (Scarborough Guildwood), also a former minister, sold 2,000 memberships.
“My campaign team worked hard to reignite the energy in the Liberal party and restore confidence in Liberal leadership. I am pleased with the work that we put in,” said Hunter.
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Ottawa lawyer Brenda Hollingsworth, whose vetting for the party by KPMG was completed Tuesday, did not turn in any new memberships by Monday’s deadline.
Delegates who can cast ballots at the convention will be voted on by party members at meetings across the province on Feb. 8 and 9.
The six candidates will debate Sunday in Guelph. They will next clash in Windsor on Dec. 12 followed by debates in Sudbury on Jan. 12, Ottawa on Jan. 22, Markham on Feb. 1, and Toronto on Feb. 19.
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