Ontario’s Liberals are losing Michael Chan after the International Trade Minister announced that he won’t be seeking re-election, only nine weeks before a spring vote where the long-governing party faces long odds.
Mr. Chan’s decision, which leaves the Liberals without one of their strongest fundraisers and conduits to the Chinese-Canadian community, is the latest in a long string of departures for Premier Kathleen Wynne. Tracy MacCharles, the Minister of Consumer Services, and MPP Grant Crack also announced on Thursday they are bowing out.
Ms. Wynne has also lost her high-profile deputy premier, treasury-board secretary and health minister over the past six months. Speaking with reporters Thursday, the Premier said that developing health concerns were responsible for the last-minute decisions by the two ministers not to run again.
“I wish Tracy and Michael well with their health issues,” Ms. Wynne said during an announcement in Toronto. “Up until a short time ago, they all three had intended to run, but as I said, Michael and Tracy are dealing with health issues and Grant has served the public for many years.”
Mr. Chan, who has held a number of portfolios and represented the riding of Markham-Unionville since 2007, faced a tough re-election battle, according to a number of people in his riding.
He said in a letter that his decision to step down was not easy, but “it was a necessary one that will allow me to focus on some health concerns.” He didn’t disclose the concerns in his letter and was not available for an interview. He will remain as Trade Minister until the election and will serve as the co-chair of the Liberal election campaign.
Simon Zhong, the executive director of the Toronto Community and Culture Centre, said that Mr. Chan was a model for young Chinese-Canadian politicians. He made them realize it was possible, he said.
However, Jonathan Fon, the spokesman for the Canadian Asian Community Think Tank, said Mr. Chan’s support for his party as it backed a new sex-education curriculum and embraced federal cannabis legislation was out of step with the community that elected him.
While Mr. Chan had few major achievements at Queen’s Park and oversaw major cost overruns during the Pan American Games, he remains an influential figure.
In June, 2015, Mr. Chan was the subject of a Globe and Mail investigation, which revealed the Canadian Security Intelligence Service was concerned that the minister may have grown too close to the Chinese consulate in Toronto, prompting a senior official to formally caution the province about the minister’s alleged conduct in a 2010 briefing.
Around that time, then-premier Dalton McGuinty dismissed the CSIS concerns as baseless. When The Globe brought the allegations to Ms. Wynne in 2015, she also dismissed them. Mr. Chan wrote in 2015 that “there is a persistent theme that there is a perceived risk that I am under undue influence and that I am an unwitting dupe of a foreign government. This is offensive and totally false.” Mr. Chan has steadfastly denied the claims made by Canada’s spy agency.
A year later, he also drew criticism after the controversial appearance in Ottawa by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who berated a Canadian reporter for asking a press-pool question about the country’s human-rights record. Mr. Chan, then the minister of citizenship, immigration and international trade, defended China’s human rights practices in a Chinese-language column without referencing the systemic suppression of freedom of speech, torture and execution. Mr. Chan argued instead that China’s rights record should be judged on economic livelihood.
The opposition Progressive Conservatives, who are ahead of the Liberals in the polls, said the two ministers on Thursday were “jumping off a sinking ship.”
The 11th-hour decisions not to run, coming only weeks before the start of the election campaign, are highly unusual and should be concerning for the party, said Henry Jacek, a political-science professor at McMaster University.
“We’re only two months away from an election. A cabinet minister just doesn’t quit two months before, that’s bad form. And now the Premier’s losing two of them,” said Prof. Jacek. He said the party will have little time to find candidates for the ridings and build up their support before a difficult election campaign.
“I do think there is panic amongst a lot of Liberals. It’s hard to see how they could win with a Premier who is so unpopular,” Prof. Jacek said.
With reports from Xiao Xu.