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Ontario Liberals to set stage for leadership race at weekend AGM in Hamilton

ontario liberals to set stage for leadership race at weekend agm in hamilton

Ontario Liberals are gathering this weekend for another attempt at party renewal following a second consecutive disastrous election result, and one of the main items on the agenda is setting the stage for a leadership race.

The party’s annual general meeting in Hamilton is set to be the largest in 20 years, the Liberals say, with 1,500 people expected to attend.

Members are set to pick a new party executive and vote on several constitutional amendments, including whether to stick with delegated conventions or to move to a form of direct voting for the leader.

The Liberals had a similar debate in 2019, when a push to move to a one-member-one-vote system failed.

The delegated convention held the following year — where delegates represented groups of members during voting — saw Steven Del Duca selected as leader, but he resigned after the Liberals did not win enough seats in the 2022 election to have official party status at the legislature. It was the second election in a row with that result.

But the 2019 AGM vote was close, and saw 57 per cent support when it needed two-thirds support to pass. This time, proponents hope party members are even more primed for change.

No date yet for Liberal leadership contest

Mitzie Hunter, who led the push in 2019, said a one-member-one-vote system is more democratic and leads to a stronger party organization.

“I strongly believe that giving each party member a direct say in the selection of the next leader puts us in line with the Liberal Party of Canada and other modern democratic political parties worldwide,” she wrote in a statement.

Three contenders who are openly exploring bids for the leadership are all on board with a direct voting system — MP Nate Erskine-Smith, MP and former Ontario cabinet minister Yasir Naqvi, and current provincial caucus member and former MP Ted Hsu.

There is no date yet for the Liberal leadership contest, but one of the first orders of business for the new party executive selected this weekend will be to set the rules and timelines for that race.

Delegated conventions are big, dramatic affairs, but they have also fallen out of favour with most other political parties, including the federal Liberals. They decided in 2009 to end delegated conventions and were the last federal party to do so.

There are often multiple rounds of ballots in delegated conventions, with losing candidates making deals to throw their support — and therefore their delegates’ support — behind another candidate, until one person has a majority of support.

Interim leader John Fraser said the leadership process itself is as important as the outcome, given all the rebuilding work the party has to do.

“That process allows us to go and work in places and regions where we need to work,” he said recently.

“It allows us to get more members. It allows us to have a free and open debate about issues that are important to Ontarians and it helps just to raise money, quite frankly.”

Three veteran Liberals recently led a campaign debrief and their report pointed to factors such as an “unpopular” leader, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a lack of overarching vision, and not enough training or support for local campaigns as contributing to their “devastating” loss in the latest provincial election.

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