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Ontario Liberal Party Leader Steven Del Duca speaks at the party convention in Mississauga on March 7, 2020.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Ontario’s Liberals say they have paid off their $10-million debt from the 2018 provincial election in which they suffered the worst defeat in the party’s history.

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca says the party was able to eliminate the debt by tightening internal spending and growing its membership and donor base.

Del Duca says that by eliminating membership fees the party has been able to grow its ranks to more than 75,000 members, which in turn has increased contributions.

The Liberals went into the last election holding a majority, but lost their official party status when they won only seven seats.

The devastating loss prompted the resignation of Kathleen Wynne as party leader.

Del Duca, who was elected leader last March, says eliminating the debt will allow the party to continue to prepare for the next election, which is scheduled for June 2022.

“It just gives us a tremendous amount of freedom and flexibility to focus on the task at hand, which is to be the most compelling competitor or alternative to (Premier) Doug Ford,” he said.

Work on the party’s platform is underway, Del Duca said, and virtual candidate nomination meetings continue. He said the party expects to have 30 candidates in place by the weekend.

Del Duca acknowledged that the work to rebuild the party and pay down the debt has not been easy, and the pandemic has added to the challenges.

“It was a pretty big number … when you take into account how badly we were beaten and how small the team was coming out of 2018,” he said. “It was a daunting challenge but I ran for the leadership of the party with my eyes wide open.”

The Liberal party had governed Ontario for 16 years before losing to the Progressive Conservatives in 2018.

The party currently has eight elected caucus members - former Progressive Conservative legislator Amanda Simard crossed the floor and joined Liberals after the Tories cut funding for French-language services.

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