New Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca will set about touring the province as he looks to rebuild his party after the crushing 2018 election loss, while Progressive Conservatives immediately tied him to the legacy of former premier Kathleen Wynne.
Mr. Del Duca, a former cabinet minister in Ms. Wynne’s government, handily won Saturday’s leadership race on the first ballot with almost 59 per cent of the vote. A long-time Liberal organizer, he will now take the helm of a party that has not has a permanent leader since the June, 2018, election defeat under Ms. Wynne, who still sits as an MPP.
The party holds eight seats in the Ontario Legislature, and is millions of dollars in debt from the last election. Mr. Del Duca’s first stop on Monday will be Windsor as he embarks on a week-long tour.
In his acceptance speech on Saturday, Mr. Del Duca, a 46-year-old father of two, said he wants to create a “modernized political movement” to win the next election.
“When we are united, when we are focused, we get the job done,” he said.
He later told reporters he doesn’t plan to seek a seat in the legislature before the June, 2022, election unless a by-election opens up in Vaughan-Woodbridge, now held by PC associate minister Michael Tibollo, who beat Mr. Del Duca in 2018.
“We have a lot of work to do in order to regain with humility … the trust of people in this province,” he said.
Mr. Del Duca said the party needs to raise millions of dollars, find a diverse slate of candidates and come up with a platform that resonates with the public before the next election, which takes place in just more than two years.
But when asked about his own record as transportation minister, which saw controversy after he approved a GO train station near his Vaughan riding, Mr. Del Duca said he’s a “work in progress.”
“I don’t think that any one of us delivers perfection, and more importantly I don’t think the people of Ontario expect perfection. They expect competence. They expect a government to gets the big things right,” he said.
Toronto MPP Michael Coteau came second in the leadership race with 17 per cent of the vote, followed by academic Kate Graham, seen as a rising star in the party, with 14 per cent.
In a final pitch to about 2,500 Ontario Liberals, Mr. Del Duca took direct aim at Mr. Ford, criticizing the PC record on education, health care and the environment and labelling the Premier “a climate change dinosaur.” He said the Tories have created “chaos” in the education system, a reference to four teachers’ unions that have undertaken rotating strikes in the province, and he vowed to strengthen public education. He also expressed support for pharmacare, a key federal Liberal pledge.
Mr. Del Duca portrayed the Premier as a partisan opportunist who does not have Ontarians’ interests at heart.
“We know that Doug Ford only cares about expanding opportunity for his friends, and for settling old political scores,” Mr. Del Duca told the crowd.
Mr. Del Duca accused Mr. Ford of wasting money on gas pump stickers, attack ads and lawyers to fight the federal carbon tax in court.
“We need a Premier who really accepts that climate change is a scientific fact," he said.
PC House Leader Paul Calandra tied Mr. Del Duca to Ms. Wynne’s government, calling him her “right-hand man” and criticizing the Liberal record on high hydro prices and skyrocketing debt.
“When you hear what he talked about today, it was doubling down on the policies of Kathleen Wynne,” Mr. Calandra told reporters. “It’s like he learned nothing from the 2018 election.”
As soon as Mr. Del Duca concluded his speech on Saturday morning, the PC party released a notice that Mr. Calandra would be playing host to a “pool party” at the convention, a reference to a recent CBC report about Mr. Del Duca’s failure to apply for the necessary permits for a newly built pool in his backyard.
Mr. Del Duca refused to directly answer questions about the pool at his press conference.
Mr. Del Duca did not reserve his criticism for Mr. Ford alone: He also went after NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who he accused of siding with the Tories during the Liberals’ time in office.
“We cannot afford to have leaders who are missing in action when the bell sounds,” he said.
The NDP’s Taras Natyshak sent out a fundraising e-mail after Mr. Del Duca’s win, calling him a “scandal-plagued, out-of-touch, former Wynne cabinet minister from the right-leaning wing of their party.”
The other candidates for leader were: Toronto MPP Mitzie Hunter, Ottawa lawyer Brenda Hollingsworth and former staffer Alvin Tedjo, who was joined onstage by a robot as he made his pitch for artificial intelligence and basic income.
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