It’s hard to imagine anything more foolish than the public letter in which 40 prominent Liberals urged Ontario Green Leader Mike Schreiner to cross the floor, become a Liberal, and run for the leadership of the party. And yet Mr. Schreiner says he is considering it.
The letter exposes the desperation of Liberals in Ontario to find some way, any way, to return to power. But instead of advancing their cause, they have undermined it. And if Mr. Schreiner does decide to cross the floor, he will be damaging his own reputation as well as that of both the Liberals and the Greens.
“We are a group of Ontario Liberals who are deeply concerned about the state of politics in Ontario,” the authors of the public letter to Mr. Schreiner declare.
“... That is why we are taking this unprecedented step – to reach outside our ranks to urge you, the leader of another party – to join the Ontario Liberals and run for our party’s leadership.”
Very smart Liberals signed this letter, including former deputy premier Deb Matthews, former cabinet ministers John Milloy, Greg Sorbara and Liz Sandals and former Liberal leader Lyn McLeod. These people all should have known that if they wanted to draft Mr. Schreiner, they needed to do so quietly. That’s what backrooms are for. Instead, they created a website: www.draftmike.ca.
Mr. Schreiner told Martin Regg Cohn of the Toronto Star that he had no plans to run for Liberal leader. But on Monday he responded to the letter by saying: “I’m going to ask people to give me time to think about their arguments.”
He said he would consult his colleagues in the Green Party and constituents in Guelph “as I take time to respond to this letter.”
For what it’s worth, here’s one response. The letter was a terrible idea and so is Mr. Schreiner’s pussyfooting.
First, Mr. Schreiner has undermined his reputation as Leader of the Ontario Greens and undermined the party as well. No responsible party leader would do such a thing.
Second, the campaign to recruit Mr. Schreiner undermines honest-to-God Liberals who are considering a run for the leadership. One of them is Toronto MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, who tweeted out a video in response to the letter.
“We do need purpose and principle in our politics, just as we need serious renewal for the Ontario Liberal Party,” he stated. “But we don’t need gimmicks, open letters and Hail Marys to find it.”
Mr. Erskine-Smith, Scarborough-Guildwood MPP Mitzie Hunter, Kingston and the Islands MPP Ted Hsu and Ottawa Centre MP Yasir Naqvi are also considering a run. The effort to draft Mr. Schreiner effectively dismisses these highly credible candidates in the eyes of those who signed the letter.
Mr. Schreiner, as a former Green, would surely push the Grits to the left on social policy and put environmental issues front-and-centre. But there is a strong argument for the Liberals positioning themselves to the right of where they were under former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne, by placing an increased emphasis on fiscal responsibility.
Finally, the letter reinforces the impression that Liberals care about nothing but power and are prepared to do whatever it takes to win it, even if that means absconding with the leader from another party.
Because they enjoyed 15 years in power under Dalton McGuinty and Ms. Wynne, it’s easy to forget that, historically, the Ontario Liberal Party has been politically weak. Progressive Conservatives governed for 42 years straight, finally losing in 1985 to Liberal leader David Peterson. But Mr. Peterson needed the help of NDP leader Bob Rae to bring the Tories down, and in 1990 was brought down himself by Mr. Rae.
The party was out of power for another 13 years. Mr. McGuinty and Ms. Wynne had a good run, but in the 2018 election the Liberals were reduced to third place and lost party status in the legislature. They repeated that unhappy result last year. As things stand, the NDP under incoming leader Marit Stiles is better positioned than the Liberals to defeat the Conservatives.
Politics is full of surprises. If you have $10 to spare, you could bet that Mike Schreiner will cross the floor, win the Liberal leadership and then defeat the Conservatives to become premier of Ontario.
Or you could buy a lottery ticket. The odds are about the same.