What can a provincial politician do during a Federal campaign? Well, according to Ontario Liberal leadership candidate Steven Del Duca, he can help get candidates elected while also meeting and greeting with the Ontarians he needs to reach if he wants to be Premier. Del Duca was in Guelph Friday to knock on doors with candidate Lloyd Longfield, and he answered a few questions from this reporter on the car ride from Longfield’s campaign office to Stone Road.
***This interview was edited for clarity and length.
Guelph Politico: Can I ask how this helps your leadership bid?
Del Duca: I think there’s tons of alignment, and I think it’s a great opportunity for Liberals, generally speaking, to get a chance to see how determined and hardworking the provincial leadership candidates are to helping our Federal cousins, which I think is a good thing. My goal is to get to all 70 ridings across Ontario, this is my 42nd canvas, and there’s still about 24 or so days to get all the way to 70 in every corner of Ontario. There’s too much at stake in this election, whether we’re talking about the economy or climate change, and we need to make sure that Justin Trudeau and the Federal Liberals, including Lloyd Longfield, are re-elected. That sends a very clear message, I think, about the future of our country.
Politico: So is this maybe an opportunity for you and other liberal leadership candidates to sort of take your ideas for a test drive and maybe test the waters again?
Del Duca: Yeah, I think it’s always tough when your party’s in opposition and you’re trying to generate interest around your leadership renewal process. I will tell you that as the first person to announce that he was running, and the first to register, it doesn’t feel like we’re on cruise control. I’ve been to about 110 communities across the province since I announced in April, and I think my wife and kids could attest to the fact that they don’t recognize what I look like these days, but this race is not about the bright shiny lights in downtown Toronto.
We didn’t lose the election as badly as we did because we lost touch with Queens Park, or the people who live in the precincts immediately around Queens Park, we lost touch with Ontarians in their everyday lives. That’s why I’ve traveling, relentlessly touring and not only talking to Liberals, but people who I hope will one day consider joining the Liberal Party or voting for the Liberals again.
If we nominate enough quality candidates, and if we cobble together a compelling platform of ideas that reflects the hopes and the dreams of ridings across this province, and if we raise the money and rebuild our local riding associations – all of which is going to take extraordinary amounts of hard work – then I think we can once again be trusted to govern this province.
Politico: At the same time, it seems like the Liberals are in a unique position right now, it’s one year out from being defeated, but I saw one poll that says the Liberals are about even with the PCs for support. Maybe there’s a bit of nostalgia out there?
Del Duca: I think, generally speaking, Ontario voters liked most of what we delivered after being in power for 15 years. In all of my traveling, I haven’t met a single person in Ontario who wants us burning coal to produce electricity, or cancelling full day kindergarten, or to fire all the nurses that we hired, or to tear up or pave over the Greenbelt, and so on. I don’t think that means we were a perfect government, and we certainly weren’t a perfect government the last four years that we were in power. If we had been a perfect government, I don’t think we’d be down to only seven seats.
I think there are some really important lessons that we have to learn through this leadership process about how people felt that we were doing many things that were good or right for the province, but they still felt the need to put us pretty harshly in the penalty box. I’ve seen the polls that show we’re in far better shape today without a leader versus where we were in June, and that’s fine. That’s good for morale, but do I put a lot of faith in that? Absolutely not. We need to give Ontario voters a sense that we’ve learned from our mistakes, and that we are humbly asking for their support again.
Politico: So what’s the first step?
Del Duca: I think it’ll be really important for the new leader, and the party at large, to figure out how we want to go forward with any reforms to party membership, candidate nominations, platform development, and all of this stuff that’s in kind of a holding pattern right now. So how soon do we start nominating candidates? How soon can we put together a platform? How soon can we prepare for the fact that within a couple of weeks of our leadership convention, we’re going to get Doug Ford’s second budget? That new leader has to be in place with the caucus to make sure that we can respond in a thoughtful, but hard-hitting way to what I’m sure will not be a great budget.
I also don’t want to underestimate how tough it will be because Doug Ford and his friends have made it pretty clear that they believe we’re the enemy. Doug Ford did not arbitrarily decide to raise the minimum threshold for official party status in the Legislature from eight seats to 12, he did it because he knew or feared that we might re-establish ourselves as a properly-funded political party at Queen’s Park.
In June 2018, the Ontario NDP had their very best chance in a generation to form government and prove they could stop the Conservatives and Doug Ford from winning the election and they couldn’t make it happen. So the attacks are going to be coming, and they’re going to be well-financed. This is this is what we have to look forward to as a party, so we need to get our act together, we need to be ready to hit the ground running on March 9 with all of those elements that I talked about, and we need a leader in place who’s strong enough to withstand that full frontal assault that will be coming and respond.
I don’t think voters in this province want to see weak leadership. I think they want to see strong leadership, and I think they want to see a leader in place who understands that this is truly the fight of our lives to turn around not only our party, but the province too.