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Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca announced his resignation after last week’s election results, which returned Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives to government.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

As Ontario Liberals look to rebuild after their devastating result in last week’s provincial election, former finance minister Greg Sorbara says it’s time to consider what he admits is a “pie-in-the-sky” idea: merging his party with the province’s NDP.

Many members of the two parties have denounced the concept after a campaign in which they aimed political attacks at each other. In an interview, Mr. Sorbara, who was finance minister from 2003 to 2007, when Dalton McGuinty was Liberal premier, acknowledged such a merger is unlikely.

He is floating the concept just as Ontario Liberals start to ponder new ideas to revive their ailing party.

The Liberals won just eight seats in the provincial legislature in last Thursday’s vote, after a crushing defeat in the 2018 election that propelled them from a majority government to a party with only seven seats and without party status.

Leader Steven Del Duca announced his resignation after last week’s election results, which returned Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives to government.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, whose party lost seats but outdid the Liberals and retained Official Opposition status, also stepped down.

“If I could wave a magic wand, and given that both opposition parties are without leaders, I would be advocating that – and this is rather controversial – that each of the parties dissolve themselves and enter into a merger that would create the Liberal Democratic Party of Ontario,” Mr. Sorbara said.

“I confess ... it’s pie in the sky,” said Mr. Sorbara, who was also a minister in the minority government of premier David Peterson, which relied on a deal with the NDP in 1985 to stay in power. “But also, it’s an idea at least worthy of some consideration.”

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The Liberals and NDP each received just under 24 per cent of the popular vote last week, compared to the PCs’ just over 40 per cent. But a merger, far different from an electoral coalition, or a confidence-and-supply arrangement similar to the one the federal Liberals and NDP have in Ottawa, is simply not on, many in both parties say.

“The New Democratic Party is a social democratic party,” said NDP strategist Brad Lavigne, who ran the 2011 federal election campaign that won the NDP, under leader Jack Layton, official opposition status in Ottawa. “The Liberal Party is a business brokerage party. ... These parties are fundamentally different.”

He said the NDP simply cannot join forces with the Ontario party that, before being defeated in 2018 under Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne, privatized the province’s Hydro One power utility and laid off nurses from hospitals.

Scott Reid, who worked for Ms. Wynne and was also an aide to Liberal prime minister Paul Martin, said merging the Liberals, whom he described as centrist and pragmatic, with the “ideological” NDP is a “hard no.” He also pointed out that the weakened Liberals would have little with which to negotiate if they tried to merge now.

He said Ontario Liberals need to focus instead on finding someone with more star power than Mr. Del Duca for their next leader. Mr. Reid said the party must not rush the process or feel obliged to anoint a sitting MPP. If the Liberals fail to improve their standing under their next leader, he said, they will face an “existential threat.”

“The party has to pick a leader with snap, crackle and pop,” Mr. Reid said. “It’s just that simple. Someone that can absolutely animate Liberals, someone that can appeal beyond the voter base, someone that can grow the party, someone that’s got a touch of celebrity or celebrity-to-be to them.”

While no merger may be in the offing, Ontario Liberals are expected to contemplate changes as they go about seeking a replacement for Mr. Del Duca, whom they selected as leader in March, 2020.

Mr. Del Duca was chosen via an old-fashioned delegated convention, to which riding associations elect and send voting representatives. Most political parties in Canada have switched to a “one member, one vote” system. The Ontario Liberals chose not to do so in 2019, despite substantial support for it, including from leadership candidates who had challenged Mr. Del Duca.

Ashley Csanady, a Liberal and a former staffer for Ms. Wynne, said careful consideration will be needed on how the party selects a new leader in an effort to encourage engagement from members across the province.

Ms. Csanady, also a senior consultant with public affairs firm McMillan Vantage Policy Group, said shifting to one vote per member might encourage more participation and willingness to volunteer for the next election. But she said ridings should be given equal weight so urban centres don’t control the results.

“It makes your membership who are engaged enough to be involved in a leadership race feel some ownership over the result and so it keeps them involved,” she said. “It gives us potentially a broader volunteer base to pull from when we need people on the ground identifying and pulling the vote.”

Queen's Park reporter Jeff Gray examines the outcome of the Ontario election that saw both the NDP and Liberal leaders resign, and Doug Ford re-elected premier amid very low voter turnout.

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