Del Duca clinches Liberal leadership with first-ballot victory

By Sabrina Nanji March 9, 2020

It’s official. About a month after he dominated the Liberals’ delegate-level elections, Steven Del Duca was dubbed party leader at the two-day convention in Mississauga over the weekend.
Del Duca — who cruised into the convention backed by about 56 per cent of the 2,000-plus elected delegates — handily secured the first ballot with 58.8 per cent support. He far outflanked the rival campaigns; runner-up Michael Coteau ranked a distant second with 17 per cent of the ballot. 
“The work begins in earnest Monday. We have 26 months until the next election,” Del Duca said Saturday. 
Del Duca to run party without seat in the legislature, possibly no salary
The former Liberal cabinet minister, whose strong organizational and fundraising skills appeal to many Liberals, said he’s planning to build up the Grits’ arsenal from outside the legislature in the lead-up to 2022. He won’t seek a seat in the house before then unless a spot opens up in his home riding of Vaughan, currently represented by Associate Mental Health Minister Michael Tibollo. 
In the meantime, it isn’t clear whether the party will pay the newly minted leader a salary; Del Duca said those discussions haven’t happened yet, but his family is prepared for any scenario.
Del Duca’s lack of seat doesn’t appear to be a major concern for the party faithful, in part because the Liberals remain four MPPs short of recognized party status and all the added resources that comes with it. 
Liberal strategist Andrew Steele told Queen’s Park Today the 2018 election in which the Grits were trounced was “humbling,” but because they lack party status they aren’t able to hold the government accountable as effectively as the official Opposition can, in question period for example. 
“Maybe I’m being a bit cynical, but I dont think being in the legislature is the best training for being premier. Having a leader who is in the house is a good thing, but it’s not the critical determining factor of how the next election is going to play out,” said Steele, who is currently vice-president at StrategyCorp. 
“Let’s look at recent history. Doug Ford had never stepped foot in the legislature before he was premier of Ontario. It’s not exactly the biggest vulnerability for a leader going into the next election,” Steele went on to say. 
The new leader has also promised gender parity for the 124-candidate slate in 2022, while ensuring 30 contenders are under the age of 30. Though the next election is more than two years out, Del Duca wants to start recruiting no later than July 1, 2020 “so that Liberal candidates have adequate time to introduce themselves to voters.” (That process could begin at the OLP AGM in June with the selection of a nomination committee, according to party president Brian Johns.) 
Parties trade barbs before coronation is complete
At the convention, Del Duca attacked Premier Doug Ford’s record on education and environmental policy, among other things, referring to him as a “climate change dinosaur.” Del Duca also said the Opposition NDP is not up to snuff when it comes to holding the PCs accountable. 
On the flip side, opposition parties are already tying the former cabinet minister to ex-leader Kathleen Wynne and dredging up his political baggage, particularly over the location of the Kirby GO station in his riding that the auditor general determined he improperly influenced as transportation minister. 
The PCs have sent out at least two fundraising email blasts in as many days and have called Del Duca Wynne’s “right-hand man.” House leader Paul Calandra crashed the weekend convention with pool floaties as a prop, slamming Del Duca over a negative headline regarding the construction of an outdoor pool in his backyard that violated local planning rules. 
Calandra told reporters the PCs aren’t taking anything for granted ahead of the 2022 vote, but said Del Duca’s proposals are a redux of Wynne’s. “It’s like he learned nothing from the 2018 election,” he said.
For the NDP’s part, Del Duca is the opposite — too “right-leaning.” The NDP jumped the gun, briefly releasing an attack video framing Del Duca as “not progressive” before delegates had finished casting ballots. NDP Ethics critic Taras Natyshak said Del Duca had not learned from the “sins of his past.” 
Premier Doug Ford chimed in on Friday, ahead of the results: “I don’t care who they pick. They destroyed our province.” 
The Liberal Party jabbed back with a parody of the old licence plates to which the PCs will be returning until the revamped white plates are ready March 16, according to the Star“A Plate To Re-Discover,” read the tagline for the old blue-on-white plates the Grits printed out for reporters at the convention.