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Ontario Liberals vote down new system for picking their next leader

A volunteer arranges a stall selling dog chew toys depicting Ontario Premier Doug Ford at the Ontario Liberal Party's 2019 annula general meeting in Toronto, on Friday, June 7, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Ontario Liberals voted Saturday to stick with the status quo for selecting their next leader, although the vote was close and various contenders for the top job pledged they would heed a call for modernization.

Members debated a proposal at their convention to use a one-member, one-vote system. It needed two-thirds support to pass, but only garnered 57 per cent of the votes, so the party will stick with a delegated convention on March 7, 2020.

Delegated conventions are large, dramatic affairs, but they have fallen out of favour with most other political parties, including the federal Liberals. Critics say they are elitist and relegate decision-making to the back rooms.

Supporters say they help prevent someone from winning by signing up large numbers of “instant members,” and they provide for deliberations and sober second thought.

Former provincial cabinet minister Steven Del Duca, who was the first to formally declare his leadership bid, said if he wins he would appoint a task force to look at other ways the leadership process could be updated.

“I think it’s really, really important for us to be unified and move forward, but I do think we have to respect the voices of those who felt very passionately that we can do better in this process,” Del Duca said.

Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said he is encouraged that one year nearly to the day after the party’s historic election defeat, their convention saw a large turnout.

“I think if you had said to anybody in Ontario this day last year that we’d have 1,000 people in a convention centre for an Ontario Liberal (annual general meeting), I’m not sure they’d say that that was something they would expect,” he said.

Mitzie Hunter, who was one of just seven Liberals to hold onto their seats in last year’s election, had pushed hard for a one-member, one-vote system.

“I don’t see this as a setback,” she said. “I see this as the membership at the grassroots level saying that they want a voice in this party. They want a say in this party. They want to reconnect with this party and that’s the intention.”

Hunter said she is looking at a leadership bid.

Michael Coteau, one of the other remaining caucus members who is also running for leader, said there was a feeling in the room that people want change.

“When you have 60 per cent of the delegates – almost 60 per cent – voting to build reform and that doesn’t happen, it’s obvious the membership is not satisfied with the status quo,” he said.

One-time candidate Alvin Tedjo, who has also declared a leadership bid, had pushed for free party membership, but that proposal also failed.

“It makes it harder for people to access this party that we’re trying to build and regrow,” he said.

A group of Liberals circulated a flyer at the convention seeking to draft astronaut Chris Hadfield as leader.

The party will now set rules for the leadership race, including an official start date and entry fees.