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Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter to call for end to delegated leadership conventions

Last Updated Jan 21, 2019 at 11:24 am EDT

Ontario Education Minister Mitzie Hunter unveiling child care framework, June 6, 2017. CITYNEWS/Adrian Golombek

As Ontario’s Liberals regroup following their electoral drubbing last summer, one of the few remaining elected members wants to give more people a say in how their next leader is chosen.

Mitzie Hunter will call on the party at its June annual general meeting to do away with delegated conventions and move to a one-member, one-vote system.

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.

Hunter said the move would take leadership decisions out of the back rooms and place them in the hands of every party member.

“I believe that the people of Ontario gave us as Liberals a very clear direction in the results of the last election that we do need to re-look at our party,” she said.

“This is a place to start, making sure that as we elect the leader of the party that the voices of all of our members who want to participate in that selection are heard. One member, one vote gives us that opportunity, moving away from a select group of people choosing who the leader is to every member that wants to have a say being able to do so.”

The Liberals went down in spectacular electoral defeat last June. They had held a majority government prior to the vote, but were left with just seven seats, not even enough to have official party status in the legislature.

Former premier Kathleen Wynne resigned as Liberal leader and the party is now helmed on an interim basis by John Fraser.

The party is talking about waiting until after the October federal election to hold a leadership race and will likely finalize rules for that process at its annual general meeting, set for June 7 — the anniversary of last year’s election.

Under the Liberals’ current rules for delegated conventions, each riding association elects 15 delegates, a few other delegates are elected, such as student representatives. There are also automatic delegates, including current and former caucus members, any candidates from the 2018 election and members of the party executive.

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.

That system has run its course, Hunter said.

“We are in a space and time right now where we want to make sure that this party is open, that people feel that they have a direct choice in the leader that is selected — there’s nothing standing between them and that decision and that their voice is welcomed and it is respected and it is not going to be controlled by backroom decisions,” she said.

Omar Yar Khan, who is on the Liberal executive, said he personally wouldn’t support moving away from delegated conventions.

“The (last) PC convention didn’t elect the candidate that actually got the most votes,” Khan said, pointing to Premier Doug Ford’s victory over Christine Elliott. “I would also say that delegated conventions provide a check against unbridled populism.”