Ontario Liberals show they’re still all about heavily progressive virtue-signalling

The Liberals say their goal is to produce “the most inclusive team of candidates in Ontario history,” and to that end, the party will be nominating candidates by giving special advantages to women and young people, and providing enthusiastic outreach to potential candidates who are Black, Indigenous or LGBTQ. Leader Steven Del Duca has promised that at least half of the Liberal candidates in 2022 will be women, and 30 of the overall group will be people under 30 years old.

(an easily manipulated group the Liberals hope)

The commitment to women is so strong that the party is willing to declare some nomination races open to women only. It’s a move that would seem somewhat less hypocritical had the Liberal membership not just chosen a middle-aged white guy to lead the party, rejecting five other candidates, each of whom fit the Liberals’ desired profile, being either women, non-white, or both.

Presumably, Del Duca’s first-ballot victory signified that Liberal members thought he was the best person for the job, despite his apparent gender, race and age handicaps (he’s 46 years old). Finding the best person for the job also seems to have been the standard when Liberals chose Kathleen Wynne as their leader.

It’s disappointing to see a party whose last leader, Wynne, proudly became the province’s first female premier now resorting to a patronizing quota system for women. As a further boost, female nomination candidates will only pay half of the Liberals’ standard $2,500 application fee for potential nominees. Does anyone think $1,250 is a major barrier to getting more women into politics?

Every party should encourage diverse candidates. The problem comes in setting quotas based on age or gender and potentially denying the opportunity to run to qualified, talented people who don’t fit, because they happen to male or middle-aged.

It will also be interesting to see whether the abundant female and youth candidates will get to run in winnable seats, or if they will be window-dressing in ridings the Liberals are likelier to lose.

The Liberals will get their diverse candidate team, but the bigger challenge for the party will be crafting a policy plan that will actually attract Ontario voters in the next election, scheduled for 2022. The hope that Ontario Premier Doug Ford would defeat himself with his own ineptitude isn’t looking so strong at the moment. The PC leader’s performance during the pandemic, while not flawless, has turned him from a liability into an asset.

Ford’s personal approval ratings have shot up because people have gotten to know and like him. In politics, that’s a huge accomplishment, and one that will be difficult for Del Duca to match. The new Liberal leader was a middle-of-the-pack minister in the Wynne government. He lost his seat in the last election, so he won’t even be in the legislature when the focus finally shifts from Ford’s daily pandemic media event.

The Liberals’ nomination plan signals that the party will stay in the progressive territory staked out by Wynne. Perhaps it’s a good fit, but trying to outflank the NDP on the left didn’t work well for the Liberals in the 2018 election, despite the NDP’s weak leadership. By the time the next election arrives, Andrea Horwath will have been NDP leader for 13 years and will have lost in three straight contests  The Liberals are likely to gain ground on the NDP in 2022, but that alone won’t win them an election.

While the Ontario PCs under Ford aren’t exactly arch-conservatives, there is a lot of political space between the PCs and the NDP. There is an opportunity for the Liberals to run as a sensible party of the middle, but that seems unlikely.

And despite the PCs’ favourable polls of the moment, Ford’s re-election is far from assured. The Tories wanted to run on a record of eliminating the deficit and cutting taxes. Their election promises are going to be impossible to keep with the pandemic lockdown inflating the deficit and crippling the economy.

Instead, the PCs will run on jobs and economic recovery. Those are not the Liberals’ strengths, but they will have an opening on health and long-term care — if they can get voters to look past their own inadequate performance on both files over more than a decade.

While much is uncertain about the next election, two things can at least be assured: The Liberals will break into double digits with their seat count, and they will have a memorably inclusive candidate group photo.