Ontario NDP leadership race deadline nears; only one candidate declared

TORONTO — There are less than two weeks to go in the Ontario NDP leadership race and Marit Stiles, the sole official candidate, is so far the presumptive winner.

A few other caucus members – Sol Mamakwa, Chris Glover and Wayne Gates – said Tuesday they are considering a bid. But jumping quickly into the race is a tall order with the Dec. 5 deadline quickly approaching.

The party is requiring candidates to garner nomination signatures from 100 members, with at least half coming from women, gender diverse or non-binary members, and a quarter from "equity-seeking groups" such as people who are Black or Indigenous. The signatures must come from a variety of regions.

Contenders must also pay a $55,000 fee by the deadline and can't start fundraising until they are a registered candidate.

Stiles, who represents the Toronto riding of Davenport, is the only registered leadership candidate so far and has garnered endorsements from seven of her NDP caucus colleagues.

She said Tuesday that she would love to see a race.

''I'd love to debate, but I can't debate myself – or maybe I can," she joked.

"My team and I, we've been just very focused on ... moving forward on our plan, which is to build the NDP, sign up as many members as we can, and start organizing to defeat (Premier Doug) Ford in 2026."

Stiles came out strong with her campaign launch, which included three caucus member endorsements off the bat – that may have given other would-be contenders pause, said Dan O'Brien, a strategist and a former deputy chief of staff in the NDP leader's office.

"She was super organized, she was out there crossing the province," said O'Brien, the director of public affairs and government relations at BlueSky Communications.

Stiles served as the party's education critic until shortly after launching her leadership bid and is also a former school trustee, as well as a former federal New Democratic Party president.

Since beginning her campaign in September, Stiles said she has been travelling around Ontario and is focused on people who didn't vote in the last election, which saw turnout of about 43 per cent.

"They've been taken for granted, they've been they've been told over and over that what we're having here, this kind of health-care and education crisis is normal – and it's not normal," she said.

O'Brien said if any other candidates are seriously considering launching their own leadership bid, time is running out.

"I think it'd be tough," he said. "If they haven't done their work until now, and they are still considering it ... that's a tough challenge."

Mamakwa, who represents the northern Ontario riding of Kiiwetinoong, said he's still thinking about it, but played coy when asked if he had a team in place.

"There are people in the background that have been kind of helping me out, and I think we would be able to ... beat Doug Ford," he said. "I think if I ran, I would run to win. I know I would win."

Glover, who represents the downtown Toronto riding of Spadina-Fort York, said he's "kicking the tires" to see if a bid is still possible.

Gates, who represents Niagara Falls, said he is "still weighing it" with his family and his community.

The party's top job became available after Andrea Horwath resigned on election night.

Horwath, who was elected mayor of Hamilton last month, had led the NDP since 2009 and saw it rise from third party to official Opposition status in 2018, though the party's seat count decreased in this year's election.

Stiles said there have to be "changes" going forward, "but we build on the achievements of our past leader."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 22, 2022.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press