Influential Ontario Liberals are meeting on Saturday to discuss the failures of this spring's election and how to make sure they don't make the same mistakes again.
The meetings at the Sheraton hotel in downtown Toronto are a critical part of the party's ongoing election review, which is expected to wrap up in late September. The party tasked three senior Liberals — Qasir Dar, Patricia Favre and David Zimmer — with the larger "campaign debrief."
Their job is to "examine the 2022 campaign and collect and review feedback from the grassroots members that power our movement (to) directly guide and shape our party's rebuild."
QP Briefing has spoken with more than a half-dozen Liberal sources over the last few weeks about what's expected on Sept. 10, what the party's missteps were in the election, and what in the party needs to be repaired. Some sources were promised anonymity to allow them to frankly express their thoughts about the party.
One issue highlighted by three Liberal sources, including two who worked on the central campaign, was the control McGuinty- and Wynne-era leaders had on the campaign. Steven Del Duca, who resigned as leader on election night, relied on old hands from the previous Liberal governments to fill most senior positions on the campaign.
Decision-making was tightly controlled by these veterans and Del Duca, which as a collective lacked fresh campaign strategies, and seemed to be focused on correcting past mistakes instead of coming up with new ideas, according to these sources.
These sources, plus a fourth involved with the Liberal campaign, were also frustrated by how focused the party was on spotlighting Del Duca in the campaign. The campaign was so bent on this, and on trying to get Del Duca elected, that candidates in other more-winnable ridings were neglected, one source said.
One of the other sources said a group within the campaign agreed that the Liberals' failed electoral effort could be traced to three big moments. The first was the series of bozo eruptions embarrassing the party and leaving them off the ballot in multiple ridings. The second was the infamous "Doug Ford's Gravy Train" press conference featuring Mitzie Hunter, who was re-elected. And the third was Del Duca's attempt to cast the NDP and then-leader Andrea Horwath, the only woman major party leader, as sexist for pushing for a female Liberal candidate's disqualification.
While the group of Dar, Favre and Zimmer should expect to hear these gripes, they may not be reflected in what the debrief team publishes, which is meant to be "forward-looking" and "positive," according to a source involved with its compilation.
They added that the party has faced, and continues to face, a "perfect storm" of challenges, including a shortage of resources because it has less than the 12 MPPs needed to be recognized as an official party, which comes with special funding from the legislature, COVID-19 constraints, and increased hyper-partisanship.
The debriefing group also intends to outline what the party will do from the short term till the election, according to the source who's involved. "It's a lessons-learned thing — not a blame game. It's getting ourselves ready for the '26 election," they said.
In late June, MPP John Fraser, who has since taken over as the party's interim leader, said the upcoming Sept. 10 meeting will also be a chance to introduce to the party's grassroots their "brand-spanking-new" MPPs. Fraser also said that while the 2022 election results were bleak for the Liberals, they do have some positives to celebrate, like being in a better position financially, and getting more votes than the NDP.
"We looked great on the stat sheet. But we couldn't put the puck in the net," Fraser said.
MPP Stephen Blais, who like Fraser is one of the Liberals' re-elected members, said on the QP Briefing podcast last month that he was excited to hear from the central campaign team and the party's unsuccessful candidates about what went right and what went wrong when they meet this weekend.
He also thinks the party can take away lessons from its eight MPPs who did win their ridings.
Another topic that multiple Liberal sources have raised that they expect to grow into a larger debate within the party is the prospect of moving to a one-member-one-vote system. Blais said last month he wasn't sure if it'd come up on Sept. 10, but that he expects it will at the party's upcoming annual general meeting in March.
The Ontario Liberal Party's full day's worth of events on Saturday is open to any interested members. A morning networking session and evening pub night bookend a series of debriefings, speeches by interim leader John Fraser and others, and breakout sessions.
The party's provincial council is also meeting on Saturday. The provincial council includes the party's executive (its decision-making body), plus regional, youth and women's commission representatives, as well as the chairs of its key committees.
The party's eight MPPs were given their own "debrief" by party brass last Wednesday, Aug. 31. Liberal MPPs were uninterested in discussing the meeting when asked about it by QP Briefing the next day.
Dar, Favre and Zimmer will report their findings to Christine McMillan, the Liberals' 2022 campaign director. McMillan won't be at the meetings in Toronto on Saturday, as she'll be away on a pre-planned trip. Since the election, she's spent time meeting with members of the central campaign team and said in a tweet that she'd send her input to the party's executive council and its president Brian Johns before Sept. 10.
Tom Pitfield, a stalwart of Liberal politics, and close ally and friend of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, also has a role in the larger debrief. Pitfield's team at Data Sciences, the data analytics and marketing company he founded and is CEO of, and which is a go-to for Liberal politicians, will analyze information collected in the election campaign and make "evidence-based recommendations on how the party can move forward and rebuild."
The Ontario Liberal Party is one of two traditional powerhouses in the province's political history, along with the Progressive Conservative Party.
Liberal governments were in power for 15 years before 2018, which brought the party the first of its worst two election results in history. The party fell short of official party status — and, importantly, increased funding from the legislature that comes with it — in back-to-back elections. It won only seven seats in 2018, and eight in 2022.
With files from Jack Hauen and Aidan Chamandy.