Ontario Liberals set to consult on new leadership process

TORONTO — The Ontario Liberals are in no rush to select a new leader, with the party's executive council set to start consultations on changing the leadership process itself, as recommended in a report on the "devastating" 2022 election loss.

Three veteran Liberals led a campaign debrief after a second election in a row saw the party fail to win enough seats to secure official status in the legislature.

Following interviews with staff, candidates, volunteers and a survey of members, their recently released report points to then-leader Steven Del Duca being "unpopular" and hampered by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a lack of overarching vision, and not enough training or support for local campaigns.

"The result of the 2022 election was devastating and disappointing for Ontario Liberals," the report said, pointing also to gaps in voter information.

"The topic of data came up in several in-depth interviews and debrief meetings. The overwhelming question being – why didn’t we see this coming?"

One of the report's main recommendations is to launch a review of the leadership election process. Interim party leader John Fraser, a member of the executive council, said the party is indeed proceeding with consultations on that.

The consultations will look at whether there should be changes to delegated convention rules, if the leadership election should be structured as one member one vote, or perhaps some hybrid system, Fraser said in an interview. Party members shot down a previous bid in 2019 to use a one-member-one-vote system for the leadership, though the vote was close.

Based on what it hears in these upcoming consultations, the party will propose constitutional amendments at its annual general meeting in March, and only after the process for the leadership vote is established will the party set about deciding on dates and rules of entry for leadership contenders, Fraser said.

It means the party is unlikely to have a new leader any time soon.

Ontario's official Opposition New Democrats are set to confirm Marit Stiles as their new leader in a month, but Fraser said the Liberals' longer process comes with advantages.

"It's about selecting new leader, but it's also really about building up your party again, it's doing work in those regions where you need to do work and get stronger," he said.

"That's the best thing we can do for the new leader and for our party. So I think the way to do that is to take your time, to make sure that you set up a way of the race working that's going to do that."

Another key recommendation in the report is to rebuild local riding associations, starting "as soon as possible" to establish a "healthy base of trained local volunteers." The party heard through the campaign debrief that most local campaign executives said volunteer recruitment was the biggest challenge in their riding, and many said inexperienced canvassers gathered inconsistent or inaccurate data.

The local riding associations felt ignored, the report said.

"They did not feel the party supported their grassroots efforts in the two years leading up to the election," the report said.

"Many felt that a lack of training with respect to voter engagement, data management, volunteer recruitment and fundraising left them at a disadvantage and unable to support local candidates.

A "strong majority" of members who responded to a survey for the debrief felt that Del Duca was "unpopular" and the campaign failed to address the issue.

"As the candidate debrief team so eloquently wrote in their report – 'we could not turn our leader’s strengths into electoral assets.'" the report said.

Del Duca had many successes, including eliminating the party's previous campaign debt, but was also often too insulated, harming his ability to craft and deliver messages, the report said. It also did not help that he was chosen as leader mere days before the province shut down due to COVID-19 in March 2020, the party noted.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 9, 2023.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press