Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday March 10, 2020

For Steven Del Duca, winning the Ontario Liberal leadership was the easy job.  

Del Duca, a former cabinet minister, succeeds Kathleen Wynne as party leader after his landslide first-ballot victory at Saturday’s Liberal convention in Mississauga.  

Now Del Duca faces the far more difficult tasks of rebuilding his third-place party, taking on incumbent Premier Doug Ford, and giving Ontarians who want Ford gone a compelling reason to vote Liberal in 2022 rather than NDP or Green.

Here’s what’s on Steven Del Duca’s to-do list:

1. Introduce himself to Ontarians

People who follow politics closely know Del Duca from his six years as the Liberal MPP for Vaughan, Ont., including four years in cabinet. But for the vast majority of Ontario voters, he’s unknown.

His back story has the potential for some appeal: he’s a first generation Canadian, son of a Scottish mother and Italian father. He went to law school, graduating from Osgoode Hall in Toronto in 2007.

While even his supporters admit he’s far from the most charismatic politician Ontario has ever seen, they argue he is smart, hard-working and plain-spoken.  

2. Deal with his baggage

Del Duca’s tenure as transportation minister is not without controversy. He was criticized in the 2018 auditor general’s report for approving construction of two GO stations against the advice of Metrolinx staff, including one at Kirby, near his Vaughan riding.

Del Duca defends the move as the right call, saying the analysis by Metrolinx didn’t take into account expected population growth.

Just last month, CBC News revealed Del Duca built a backyard swimming pool without all the necessary permits and too close to neighbouring conservation land, according to municipal bylaws. Del Duca calls it an “embarrassing … honest mistake” and is seeking a land swap to bring the pool into compliance.

As a key member of Wynne’s government, Del Duca will also need to figure out whether to distance himself from her record, embrace her accomplishments, or toe some fine line between the two.

3. Rebuild the Liberal machine

Among Del Duca’s most important tasks now: “the unglamorous but very, very important work of party building,” says one of his senior campaign advisers. This means nurturing local riding associations, recruiting candidates, developing policies and raising money, all with an eye toward the June 2022 election.

The 2018 election disaster left the Ontario Liberals with not only their worst result in party history, but also with a financial mess. The party raised just $970,000 last year, according to donations recorded on the Elections Ontario website. It’s a far cry from the PCs’ haul last year in excess of $4.8 million. Doug Ford raked in more than $2 million on just one night this past week, at his annual leaders’ dinner.

4. Contrast with the NDP

Much could change by the time Ontarians go the polls in 2022, but right now the next election looks set to be a referendum on Doug Ford. People who want to vote “no” in that referendum will have options other than Del Duca’s Liberals, chiefly Horwath’s New Democrats.

Given that the Liberals and NDP (as well as the Greens) will be fishing in the same pool of anti-Ford voters, Del Duca needs to contrast himself as the clear alternative. He’ll likely do that by painting the New Democrats as ineffective in holding Ford to account, as he did in his speech to the convention Saturday, and by whipping up fears that an NDP government would harm the economy.  

5. Face off against Doug Ford

There are plenty of voices out there insisting there’s no way Doug Ford can win a second term in 2022, but that’s a rather naive view. Ford loves campaigning, he has a formidable re-election team and his party is rolling in cash.

The Liberals cannot simply rely on Ford losing. Del Duca knows that, as does his team. “Anyone who suggests that this government is done for doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” said his senior adviser. (CBC) https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/ontario-liberal-leadership-steven-del-duca-doug-ford-1.5483827

Ontario, Liberal, Party, Steven Del Duca, Coronavirus, legacy, Doug Ford