TORONTO – Ontario’s Liberals must do some soul-searching in the wake of the devastating defeat they suffered in the provincial election in order to understand where things went wrong, the party’s new interim leader said Monday.
John Fraser, an Ottawa-are legislator first elected in 2013, said the party respects the electorate’s decision and must now look internally for answers.
“The people of Ontario sent the Liberal party a very clear message,” he said in an interview. “They want us to take a break and they want us to do some soul-searching.”
Fraser was appointed interim leader last week following outgoing Premier Kathleen Wynne’s resignation. The Liberals, who have been in power in Ontario for 15 years, won only seven seats in the June 7 election, one short of the eight seats required to maintain official party status in the legislature.
His mission as interim leader will be to begin the rebuild of the party brand, Fraser said, describing himself as a “caretaker.” Chief amongst his concerns will be getting the party’s financial house in order and addressing millions in debt accumulated through the election.
“We spent approximately $10 million to get seven seats,” Fraser said. “I think Liberals want an answer in that regard. They want us to take a look at the campaign and pre-campaign and look at where we made mistakes.”
Fraser said the party also needs to address its lack of party status at the legislature, which means they’ve also lost funding for research, staffing and designated speaking time.
Fraser said he hopes to have discussions with incoming premier Doug Ford, whose Progressive Conservatives won a majority of seats, about the Tory government granting the Liberals party status.
“We’re going to try to establish with the government our status in the legislature,” he said. “I think one million Ontarians voted for us. It’s important their voice be effective in the legislature.”
Fraser said it’s too early to talk about a leadership race, adding that in the meantime, the party has to begin the process of becoming competitive in time for the next provincial vote in 2022.
“It’s going to take a lot of work,” he said. “Ontarians sent us a very clear message. What comes along with that message is the fact that we’ve got work to do.”
University of Ottawa political science professor Geneviève Tellier said while the road ahead for the Ontario Liberals will be difficult, the party brand has not been irreparably damaged. It will take years but it can come back from this defeat, she said.
“I think the results of the election show that people weren’t ready to head further to the left with the NDP,” she said. “There is room for an alternative that is in the middle. That would be the branding of the Liberals. … In the last year the Liberals were not the traditional party of the centre that they used to be.”
Tellier said the party must now conduct a deep “post-mortem” of the election and learn from their errors. The focus must gradually shift to selecting a new leader but the party should take its time and avoid infighting, she added.
“Even if we don’t see them too much now during this session, I wouldn’t be too concerned about that, that’s very short-term,” she said. “The more long-term rebuilding based on the ideas of the new leader will be important.”