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Ontario Liberals say over 80,000 members eligible to vote in leadership race

The Ontario Liberals say the party has 80,000 members eligible to vote in the upcoming leadership race, the highest number in its history. Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser, shown in this Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023 photo, says it shows momentum, building on two recent byelection wins THE CANADIAN PRESS/Spencer Colby

TORONTO — The Ontario Liberals say the party has 80,000 members eligible to vote in the upcoming leadership race, the highest number in its history.

The party says it had 44,000 members eligible to vote in the 2013 contest that saw Kathleen Wynne crowned leader and that was down to 38,000 for the 2020 race that Steven Del Duca won.

Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said Tuesday it's positive news for the party.

"We can confidently say 80,000 people are now members of the Ontario Liberal Party, which is our largest leadership race of any time in the history of our party," he said. 

"Coupled with a whole bunch of other things that happened this year, it just, it feels good. Lots of momentum."

The Liberals won a pair of byelections in July, holding Scarborough-Guildwood and snagging Kanata-Carleton, which was long held by the Progressive Conservatives. 

The wins left the Liberals with nine seats in the legislature, the most since their majority government went down in a massive defeat in 2018, but still a far cry from posing a threat to the governing Tories.

Several Liberal leadership contestants made various claims about how many members they were responsible for enlisting, but even without adding numbers from other contenders it adds up to more than 80,000.

Fraser said there may be some people who signed up under multiple candidates, and staff are now going through the process of removing duplicates and confirming final numbers, but they are certain it is at least 80,000.

Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie's camp said she had signed up 38,700 members. Liberal MP and former provincial cabinet minister Yasir Naqvi's team said he signed up "north of 31,000" new recruits. Current provincial Liberal caucus member Adil Shamji said he was responsible for registering more than 12,000 new members.

The remaining two candidates said those figures don't add up and that they wouldn't take part in the numbers game.

"We won’t be participating in this spin," Liberal MP Nate Erskine-Smith wrote in a statement. "We’re focused on the hard work required to build a strong team in every corner of this province." 

Former Liberal MP and current provincial caucus member Ted Hsu said he brought in "thousands" of new supporters.

"I told my campaign (manager) that we won't put out numbers I can't count on," Hsu wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. 

"So we won't be participating in this posturing with membership numbers that people can't trust."

The leadership candidates are set to participate in the first of five official debates on Thursday in Thunder Bay, Ont. Party members are set to cast their ranked ballots on the weekend of Nov. 25 and the winner is to be unveiled Dec. 2.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 12, 2023.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

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