Jun 05, 2023

Ontario Liberals to hold 5 leadership debates, starting Sept. 14 in Thunder Bay

Ontario Liberals, who will vote later this year for a new leader in the hopes of forging a path out of the political wilderness, will have five opportunities in the coming months to see the candidates debate.

The party announced Tuesday that debates will be held on Sept. 14 in Thunder Bay, Oct. 1 in Stratford, Oct. 24 in Toronto, Nov. 8 in Ottawa and either Nov. 18 or 19 in Brampton.

Candidates must register by Sept. 5, and there are so far five contenders:

The candidates have already been releasing policy positions and, particularly when it comes to Crombie and Erskine-Smith, trading some criticism.

Crombie entered the race last, but with a lot of name recognition, as mayor of one of Ontario's largest cities and a vocal critic of Premier Doug Ford's changes to developer fees that are leaving municipalities with less revenue.

In a round of media interviews as she announced an "exploratory committee" — which was quickly followed by an actual entry into the race — Crombie told TVO that she would govern from the "right of centre."

Her comments to The Canadian Press and some other outlets were limited to characterizing the government under former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne as "too far left" and saying she would govern from the centre, but Erskine-Smith pounced on the "right of centre" comment.

"When people show you who they are, you should believe them," he posted on social media. "I'm not interested in an unambitious right-of-centre approach, or just changing colour from blue to red."

Soon after her campaign launch, Crombie told the Globe and Mail she was open to Greenbelt land swaps, a position Erskine-Smith and others criticized while Ford attempts to fend off a scandal over land his government removed from the protected area.

Then Erskine-Smith questioned in a Toronto Star interview whether Crombie would be in it for the long haul if the Liberals don't win the 2026 election, a comment the 63-year-old mayor and others interpreted as ageism. She hit back with an opinion piece in the paper.

"Direct or veiled, any suggestion that a woman's age has a negative impact on her ability to contribute isn't just plain wrong — it's harmful," she wrote in her response published in the Star.

Amid the sniping, the candidates have been proposing policies on topics from education to the environment to housing.

Naqvi's proposals include universal mental health coverage, creating a "farmbelt" to protect agricultural land, building more physical and digital connectivity infrastructure in the north, and creating reverse onus licensing for internationally trained doctors.

Hsu's policies include investing in community paramedicine as a way to keep people out of ERs, investing in alternative fuels such as hydrogen and renewable natural gas, better supporting a system to connect startups with investors, and bringing in rent control measures.

Shamji, an ER doctor, has proposed creating incentives for medical school graduates to enter family practice, introducing a new flex statutory holiday, eliminating standardized EQAO testing in schools, and eliminating exclusionary zoning to increase housing density.

Erskine-Smith is also proposing to eliminate exclusionary zoning, and he wants to introduce stronger tenant protections, introduce means-tested grants for purchasing electric vehicles, and review a moratorium on offshore wind power.

Crombie has proposed to reduce average class sizes, legislate 10 paid sick days for all health-care workers, and create a centralized specialist referral system to reduce wait lists.

Party members are set to cast their ranked ballots on the weekend of Nov. 25 and the winner is to be unveiled Dec. 2.

The next leader will have the task of rebuilding the party after it failed in two consecutive elections to win enough seats to get official party status in the legislature, following 15 years in government.

Former leader Steven Del Duca resigned last year after the 2022 election loss. Three veteran Liberals wrote in a campaign debrief report that Del Duca was "unpopular" and also pointed to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a lack of overarching vision, and not enough training or support for local campaigns as contributing factors.