Ontario Liberals voted Saturday to forge ahead with a new system for selecting their next leader, shedding the delegated conventions of old as the party seeks renewal and recovery from two consecutive electoral disasters.
Members attending the party’s annual general meeting in Hamilton this weekend overwhelmingly voted for a one-member-one-vote system. Proponents say the process is more democratic, and that delegated conventions put too much power in back rooms.
Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said the vote represents change, which is good for a party looking for renewal.
“(Delegated conventions were) something we did for a long time, a few decades and now we’ve decided, let’s do something different,” he said.
“I think it allows for a greater democratic process, accessible, available.”
Fraser said the AGM is the party’s largest in 20 years with about 1,500 attendees, adding the energy — particularly among young members — is exciting.
“That’s the thing that gives me hope, gives me energy, that sense of belief, that belief that we can do things that will improve the lives of Ontarians,” he said.
The race to replace former leader Steven Del Duca has not yet officially started, though three contenders are openly exploring bids: MP Nate Erskine-Smith, MP and former Ontario cabinet minister Yasir Naqvi, and current provincial caucus member and former MP Ted Hsu.
Members are set to pick a new party executive Sunday at the AGM, and one of their first orders of business will be to set the rules and timelines for the upcoming race.
Fraser said in a speech earlier Saturday that the leadership race is important, but not only for the end result.
“It’s about the journey,” he said.
“Done right, that journey takes us to every corner of this province. It makes us work where we need to work. We invite new members. We listen to Ontarians where they live about the things that are most important to them, and we have a healthy debate about ideas and aspirations.”
Doing that groundwork, Fraser said, will hand the new leader a party with a stronger foundation and put them in a better position to fight the next election in 2026.
The party’s fortunes fell sharply in the 2018 election, during which the Liberals went from a majority government to lacking enough seats to secure official party status in the legislature.
The devastating loss caused much soul-searching, but the following year members voted down a proposal to move to a one-member-one-vote system.
The next election in 2022 produced another disappointing result for the party, still several seats away from official party status.
Three veteran Liberals recently led a campaign debrief and their report pointed to factors such as an “unpopular” leader, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a lack of overarching vision, and insufficient training or support for local campaigns as contributing to their loss.