Get ready for a bonkers Liberal AGM
Also: Curling wants Chan investigated, spotted at Ford's big fundraiser, Layton opens up "left" field, Stiles calls Ford "sexist," mining moves, byelection watch and more
ABOVE THE FOLD
Grits are gearing up for what’s expected to be their biggest annual general meeting in two decades — and the drama is palpable. More than 1,500 delegates will brave the winter storm and descend on Hamilton tonight — and though some are worried they won’t be able to vote — the three-day convention is shaping up to be the most consequential in recent memory.
Here’s what you need to know:
OMOV vs. Delegates: Everyone will be watching to see whether the Liberals decide to swap out the traditional delegated convention for a weighted one-member-one-vote system when it comes to picking the next leader. It could happen this time: OMOV got majority support the last time around, but failed to meet the 66-per-cent threshold required for a constitutional amendment.
Why it matters: The Ontario Liberal Party is one of the last major parties in the country to stick with a delegated convention — and while they’re more entertaining, they tend to favour well-connected party insiders. Proponents of OMOV say their system is more democratic.
On the flip side, chief returning officer MILTON CHAN, who’s running the votes, is backing delegated conventions — something party members say puts him in a conflict of interest.
Our sources say Chan has been openly telling party members that he supports the old system, which they perceived as a “transparent and shameless” effort “to kill one member one vote.”
Chan disagrees, saying that “their understanding of what constitutes a conflict of interest may not be entirely correct.”
“My personal view on the debate of ‘convention vs. direct vote’ has no bearing or connection to my role as CRO. As CRO, I am required to be neutral on the candidates seeking election. My holding any views on any of the proposed amendments is not a conflict of interest in either technical sense or substantive sense.”
The race for president: Speaking of the candidates, the party will elect a new president and executive council, who will play a key role in laying out the rulebook for the as-yet-unannounced leadership contest. Our sources have long said the leadership convention is expected in 2024 at the earliest.
Hospitality suites: Tonight will be a schmoozefest, featuring hospitality suites hosted by wannabe Grit leaders, including MPs NATE ERSKINE-SMITH and YASIR NAQVI, and a joint party put on by MPPs TED HSU and STEPHANIE BOWMAN. As first reported in this newsletter, the Oakville riding association is hosting a suite featuring BONNIE CROMBIE. Ditto the Ontario Real Estate Association. Full lineup.
Party crashers: PIERRE POILIEVRE is coincidentally hosting a meet-and-greet around the corner on Saturday in Stoney Creek, a roughly 20-minute drive from the Hamilton Convention Centre where the Grits are gathering. Invite.
Also in the hood: Oppo NDP Leader MARIT STILES will be canvassing with Hamilton Centre byelection candidate SARAH JAMA on Sunday. ANA BAILÃO, probable mayoral contender for Toronto, is expected to make the rounds at hospitality suites. Fair Vote Canada will rally outside the convention to urge the Grits, “including the party’s leadership candidates, to back a non-partisan Citizens’ Assembly on electoral reform.”
The agenda: The new party president will be unveiled Sunday morning. Interim Leader JOHN FRASER’s keynote is Saturday afternoon. Constitutional amendments — including certain timelines and rules for the leadership contest (which you can read here) — will be considered throughout. Full agenda.
CURLING URGED DEL DUCA TO INVESTIGATE CHAN — Drip, drip, drip: Liberals have been feeling very leaky in the days leading up to the convention — and we’ve been happy to expose the chatter.
The latest dirt comes in the form of a letter ALVIN CURLING — Ontario’s first Black Speaker, an ex-minister and diplomat — sent to then-leader STEVEN DEL DUCA raising concerns about allegations of anti-Black racism against MILTON CHAN, the party’s counsel who had worked closely on candidate nominations.
Almost two years ago to the day, Curling wrote to Del Duca urging him to investigate the allegations — previously scooped by this reporter — that Chan was discouraging BIPOC candidates and had made anti-Black statements on Facebook.
I’ve now got my hands on the letter.
“It is felt and appears that the party has not dealt with the matter with the urgency and seriousness it deserves. I cannot emphasize enough, that should the issue reveal itself to be true, the damage it could bestow on the party. I have had some issues in the past with Milton that leads me to instruct you not to take this lightly,” Curling wrote, referring to when Chan worked in his office back in the day.
“Realizing also that he has the responsibility of selecting candidates to participate in upcoming Nomination Meetings leaves questions being asked as to his decision towards Black Candidates.”
I phoned Curling this week to see if Del Duca or the party followed up on his letter.
“Put it this way: I wasn’t totally impressed by the response, and I didn’t know what the investigation was about,” Curling says now. “That response to me did not really convince me that things were really fully satisfied or done properly.”
It isn’t clear if there was any formal investigation into the allegations facing Chan — something that BIPOC party members say is even more worrying.
“If Alvin can’t get an investigation, who can?” said one Liberal insider.
Chan said Curling’s concerns were never brought to him. “I have the deepest of respect and admiration for Alvin Curling, a former employer of mine. Had his concerns been raised with me at any point in the last two years, I would have reached out to him and addressed him directly.”
I asked now-Vaughan Mayor Del Duca for comment, but he referred me to the party. So I asked spokesman CARTER BROWNLEE, who didn’t address specifics: “Steven Del Duca is no longer leader of the Ontario Liberal Party however these efforts are typically guided by existing workplace policies available publicly.”
Note: Chan provided a lengthy 1,300-word response, which I won’t clog up the newsletter with here. He asked me to publish it in full, and I want to give him opportunity to respond as he sees fit. But first, some context: Despite his claim otherwise, Chan asked for a copy of Curling’s letter, which I provided along with a one-day extension to comment. Chan states that in my previous coverage he asked for my sourcing information so he could better respond to allegations of anti-Black racism — but as I said to Chan at the time, I never reveal my sources. Chan also states my coverage is “inaccurate” but he has never asked me for a correction or clarification. Read Chan’s full missive here.
FROM THE SCRUMS: STILES CALLS OUT “SEXIST” COMMENT — The latest beef between DOUG FORD and MARIT STILES came when the Premier referred to JOHN FRASER — interim leader of the third-place, unrecognized Liberal party — as “leader of the Opposition” in the House.
While Fraser quipped that “in case the Premier forgot, I’m the minivan guy” — Stiles was not about to let Ford get away with dismissing her as the actual leader of the actual Official Opposition.
“That’s a sexist comment,” she later told reporters. “I thought that the Premier’s comment about the other leader being the leader of the Official Opposition smacked of sexism — but that’s just me.”
It’s not the first time Ford has been accused of spewing sexist remarks at women leaders across the aisle — he was called out for likening then-captain ANDREA HORWATH’s voice to “nails on a chalkboard.”
BYELECTION WATCH — Speaking of Horwath, the race to replace her is shaping up. Candidate nominations for the byelection in Hamilton Centre are closed as of yesterday, and 10 candidates made the ticket. Byelection Day is March 16.
LAYTON OPENS UP LEFT FIELD — In perhaps the most consequential move in Toronto’s mayoral free-for-all race so far, ex-councillor MIKE LAYTON says he won’t run.
Why it matters: Many saw Layton as progressives’ best shot at replacing JOHN TORY — and his absence not only opens up “left” field, which could scatter progressives and split the vote, it also paves the way for other potential NDP candidates who were waiting on Layton to decide. That includes BHUTILA KARPOCHE (Parkdale—High Park). And don’t forget about MITZIE HUNTER.