Michael Lublin considering bid for Ontario Liberal Party leadership

By Sabrina Nanji May 8, 2019

Michael Lublin says some Grits may consider him an unlikely contender for their next leader, but that an outside perspective — even from a former supporter of conservative politicians — might be just what the party needs to come back after last year’s decimating election defeat.

 “The Liberal Party, those that are left in it, those that are realistic and practical … know that a new face, fresh ideas, somebody from the outside has to come in and breathe new fresh air into the party,” Lublin told Queen’s Park Today in an interview.

The businessman and restaurateur — who says he is now focused on humanitarian work — might raise some Liberal eyebrows for his past conservative connections. Lublin has supported current Premier Doug Ford and his late brother, former Toronto mayor Rob Ford. “Forever inspired by your energy,” Lublin wrote in a February 2018 Instagram post featuring himself and the Ford brothers.

He also ran Levetto, a pizza-pasta restaurant chain backed by former Tory premier Mike Harris, who reportedly calls him “Lubby.” Lublin refers to Harris as the “greatest ever” premier and his “mentor, confidante, life coach, father and friend.”

But Lublin said he’s supported and donated to parties of all partisan stripes over the years, from former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne to current Liberal MPs to the Ontario Tories. He is a card-carrying Liberal but no longer has his PC membership.

Lublin says Ontarians want a more fiscally conservative government, as evinced in the last election that brought the Liberals to the “brink of extinction” — decimated to seven seats and without recognized party status in the legislature.

“The party had moved so far to the left that it became completely indistinguishable from the NDP” whereas, traditionally, he said, “the Liberal party position is in the centre.”

“Times have changed … Ontarians have a certain amount of respect for small-C conservative fiscal responsibility and fiscal accountability. And that was lost in the last government.”

Lublin also thinks Premier Ford has swung too extreme in the opposite direction since taking office. “He’s, to my surprise, too far out there on the right, and we’re seeing evidence of it by almost daily protests at Queen’s Park,” he argued.

 For his part, Lublin said he doesn’t “want to let the people of Ontario down” and that strengthening the education and health files would be top priority if he became premier.

His potential competition includes former Liberal cabinet minister Steven Del Duca, who has also thrown his hat in the ring. On Tuesday, Del Duca put out a roundup of key Grit endorsements from current and former politicians and party activists, all of whom will have ex-officio status and an automatic vote at the AGM in June (so their support automatically carries weight).

Liberal MPP Michael Coteau has also indicated his intent to run, while Liberal MPPs Mitzie Hunter and Nathalie Des Rosiers are rumoured to be considering bids.