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Two candidates urge voters to rank the other as 2nd choice for Ontario Liberal leader

Ontario Liberal leadership candidate and Ottawa Centre MP Yasir Naqvi walks in the Toronto Pride Parade, on Sunday June 25, 2023. Two contenders for the Ontario Liberal leadership are banding together to urge their supporters to put the other as a second choice. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO — Two contenders for the Ontario Liberal leadership are banding together to urge their supporters to put the other as a second choice in a bid to stop Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie from finishing at the top of the pack.

Liberal MP and former provincial cabinet minister Yasir Naqvi and Liberal MP Nate Erskine-Smith announced Thursday that they have an agreement to ask supporters to select each other as their number two choice, and also to co-ordinate election weekend get-out-the-vote efforts.

Naqvi and Erskine-Smith say they have found a great deal of common ground, with both wanting to revitalize the grassroots of the party, restore ethics in government and invest in public education, health care and affordability while also tackling the climate crisis.

"Our party faces an important decision between a principled, pragmatic Liberal Party and a party whose leadership is vulnerable to the same criticisms as the Ford Conservatives – their political baggage, priorities and donors," the two candidates wrote in a joint statement. 

"For us, this contrast is fundamental and guides our decision to collaborate and rank each other as our second choice."

The statement is a not-so-subtle dig at Crombie, who both candidates have frequently criticized, and who is perceived as the front runner.

Crombie dismissed their attempt with a poke of her own.

"I know these two gentlemen spend a lot of time together on the federal Liberal back benches and I guess it makes sense they’d want to support each other," she wrote in a statement. 

"Based on what I’ve heard, this agreement between them seems vague and unclear. This is not a delegated convention and I’ll be honest, I’m not really sure how their deal is going to work."

In the ranked ballot system that Ontario Liberals will use to vote on the weekend of Nov. 25 and 26, party members rank their choices. If one candidate gets more than 50 per cent of the points for first-choice votes, they would win, but if not, the candidate with the least amount of votes gets dropped and it goes to a second round. 

Naqvi predicted that the vote will indeed go to a second ballot.

"No one is winning this leadership on first ballot, let's be absolutely clear about this," he said at a press conference.

Ballot rankings matter, Erskine-Smith said, though supporters don't have to follow their direction on second choices.

"Our supporters are asking us who do we trust to be second on our ballots and I want to be very clear with Liberals across this province that I trust Yasir to lead this party if I'm unsuccessful," he said.

Erskine-Smith said Thursday's move isn't about stopping one person - "it's about building the kind of party that is going to deliver for Ontarians in the right way" - though he also said there are only three candidates who are truly competitive right now in the race.

The fourth candidate in the race, former Liberal MP and current provincial caucus member Ted Hsu, wrote on social media that he was also invited to explore the arrangement but declined.

"(Liberals) worked hard to get One Member One Vote passed to give all members free votes & move beyond 'deals,'" Hsu wrote.

"Let’s INSPIRE voters to scrutinize all the choices & let their voices be heard with ranked ballots."

Members at the party's annual general meeting earlier this year overwhelmingly voted to ditch delegated conventions and move to a one-member-one-vote system. Proponents say the process is more democratic, and delegated conventions put too much power in back rooms.

A new party leader to replace Steven Del Duca is set to be revealed on Dec. 2. 

More than 100,000 members are eligible to vote, which is the largest number by far in the party's history. In 2020 there were 38,000 members eligible to vote for that leadership race and in 2013 the number was 44,000.

The party also announced last month that it had paid off its $3 million debt from the 2022 election, thanks in part to fundraising during the leadership campaign, which saw the party garner more than $1.46 million in the third quarter of 2023.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 9, 2023.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

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