Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith is assembling a team in preparation for a bid for leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party, which he says needs renewal if it is going to beat Premier Doug Ford.
Mr. Erskine-Smith, 38, said in an interview that he has been criss-crossing the province meeting Liberals over the past few months to drum up support.
“If the momentum continues to grow as it has been growing, I’m very confident we’re going to join the race when it opens up,” he said.
Earlier this week, Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner announced that he would not run for Liberal leader, after 40 Ontario Liberals urged him in an open letter to defect to their party for that purpose.
Ottawa Centre MP Yasir Naqvi has said he is seriously exploring a run, and so has Ted Hsu, an Ontario MPP who represents the Kingston area.
Mr. Erskine-Smith, who represents the Toronto federal riding of Beaches-East York, is known for being outspokenly independent in the House of Commons. He admitted that not being bilingual could be an issue, and said he is restarting French lessons. This “will be an area that I unquestionably need to improve,” he said.
He studied constitutional law and political philosophy at Oxford and worked as a commercial lawyer before entering politics. He now sits on the Commons industry committee.
Mr. Erskine-Smith said his team is “starting to look exciting,” and that those joining, some in advisory capacities, include academics, people working in finance and other “experts in their own fields.”
“You can start to look around and say, ‘OK, we can build a very serious team and we’re going to be the credible party of government in waiting, and we’re ready to deliver for Ontario,” he said.
Among those supporting him are Vince Gasparro, managing director and head of sustainable finance at Roynat Capital – Scotiabank, who worked on Paul Martin’s Ontario desk when Mr. Martin was prime minister.
“It is important that the Ontario Liberal Party has a leader and builds a team that is fiscally responsible and socially progressive. When the party has occupied that space [it] has been very successful,” Mr. Gasparro said.
Just over 44 per cent of voters turned out in last year’s Ontario provincial election. Steven Del Duca, who was the Ontario Liberal leader at the time, resigned his post when the party finished third after the NDP, with only eight seats to the ruling Progressive Conservatives’ 83.
Mr. Erskine-Smith said he is confident he can attract NDP, Green and PC voters to the Liberals, and persuade those who stayed at home during the 2022 provincial election to vote.
He said he will be paying close attention to decisions made at the Ontario Liberals’ annual meeting next weekend, which will determine the rules for choosing a new leader. He said he thinks the leadership contest should take place this year.
“There is so much work to re-engage grassroots Liberals, to rebuild our field organization, to rebuild our fundraising operation and to build a serious party the Ontario Liberals deserve,” he said. “It is essential that we don’t waste any time.”
He and others have proposed a change to the party’s rules that would allow each party member a vote on who becomes the next leader, rather than only delegates from local Liberal associations. Supporters of the change say it would give the grassroots a say.
He said the Liberals need an experienced leader who “will motivate people to participate” and will “modernize and open up our party to new people.”
“We also need generational renewal, and to build a new Ontario Liberal Party,” he said.
Among Mr. Erskine-Smith’s other supporters is Jordan Hudyma, a former actor who appeared in Suits, The Line and Degrassi: The Next Generation. He now sits on the Ontario Liberal Party executive.
Mr. Hudyma, 33, was brought up in Thunder Bay. He said a key reason for backing Mr. Erskine Smith is that he is making Northern Ontario a “demonstrable priority.”
Liberal MP Pam Damoff said Mr. Erskine-Smith’s independent streak would be an asset, because the provincial party needs “someone who will inspire people to go out to vote.”
“People have become really disillusioned with politics and politicians, and people are looking for someone who is genuine and not afraid to be different and speak their mind,” she said.