The beleaguered Ontario Liberals have chosen Steven Del Duca to replace former premier Kathleen Wynne and lead the party as it rebuilds from a catastrophic election defeat two years ago.
The former cabinet minister won in a first ballot landslide with 58.5 per cent of the vote at a delegated convention in Mississauga, Ont., on Saturday.
Current Liberal MPP Michael Coteau was Del Duca’s closest rival, taking 17 per cent of the 2,140 votes cast.
In his victory speech, flanked by his wife and two daughters, Del Duca thanked his father and mother — both immigrants from Italy and Scotland, respectively — and all the Liberals in attendance.
“I look at this audience and I see those women and men who have worked so hard for our party and for the individual candidates, who have been so extraordinary,” he said.
“You, and the nearly 40,000 members of our party province-wide, you are the foundation of what we will create and what we will create is a modernized political movement that will hit the ground running; that will win the next election and deliver progress for the people of Ontario.”
About 3,000 people attended the two-day leadership contest, co-chaired by federal Liberal MP Chrystia Freeland and interim provincial leader John Fraser. The convention featured speeches largely dominated by themes of party unity, renewal and how to best take on Ontario Premier Doug Ford and his Progressive Conservative majority.
Throughout the year-long leadership campaign, Del Duca positioned himself as an experienced candidate with the work ethic and organizing capacity to position the Liberals to contend for government in the upcoming 2022 Ontario election.
He represented the Greater Toronto Area riding of Vaughan, and later Vaughan-Woodbridge, from 2012 to 2018 and served in several cabinet posts in Wynne’s government. Del Duca lost the seat in 2018 to PC MPP Michael Tibollo.
Within moments of the convention results, the PCs’ official party Twitter account sent out a flurry of attacks on Del Duca, notably tying him to Wynne’s legacy in the province.
When asked about Ford’s leadership, Del Duca said Ontario “deserves better than the recklessness and incompetence that we see at Queen’s Park.
“We will work relentlessly until the last ballots are counted on June 2, 2022, to make sure that we defeat Doug Ford and get Ontario back on track,” he told reporters.
Meanwhile in her own tweet, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath congratulated Del Duca.
“See you on the campaign trail,” she concluded.
The other Liberal leadership candidates included MPP Mitzie Hunter, former Ontario Liberal candidates Kate Graham and Alvin Tedjo and Ottawa lawyer Brenda Hollingsworth. All of the unsuccessful candidates have previously committed to backing the new party leader.
Del Duca now takes the wheel of Ontario’s so-called “minivan party,” named for the seven Liberals who remained in the legislature after the party’s disastrous showing in the 2018 election. After 15 years in government, the Liberals lost 48 seats across the province and handed the PCs a firm majority. It was the party’s worst-ever election defeat.
He faces the arduous task of leading the Liberals as they try to fight their way back to relevance at Queen’s Park — and the challenges are legion.
In the 26 months before the next election campaign begins, the Liberals will need to recruit new candidates and restore their network of volunteers in Ontario’s 124 ridings.
Further, they will need to start bringing in financial contributions quickly. The party still has millions of dollars of debt from the last election and has not been holding fundraising events during interim leader Fraser’s tenure. Its fundraising level over the last year was far surpassed by both the PCs and the Opposition NDP.