Nathalie Des Rosiers and Marie-France Lalonde dared to lead

This editorial first appeared in the Toronto Star on Sunday, May 19, 2019.

Less than a year after their election, it was revealed last week that two Ontario Liberal members of provincial parliament will be formally resigning in the pursuit of new leadership roles.

MPPs Marie-France Lalonde and Nathalie Des Rosiers, representing the ridings of Orléans and Ottawa-Vanier respectively, announced that they will be departing the provincial political arena this year. Their departure, should both go as planned, will bring Liberal seats in provincial parliament from seven to five.

Des Rosiers leaves to serve as principal of Massey College at the University of Toronto, a particularly fitting role considering her extensive experience in university governance and civil rights advocacy.

Lalonde intends to run for the federal Liberal nomination in the riding of Orléans, filling the space left by Andrew Leslie, who is not seeking re-election this fall. Should she be unsuccessful in the bid she has committed to staying on in her current role.

Des Rosiers and Lalonde are dynamic women and dedicated public servants. I look forward to seeing the positive change they will continue to bring as they take on new challenges. Both have been fierce advocates on issues uniquely facing Francophone communities across Ontario and their perspectives will be missed at Queen’s Park.

Just as there is no perfect time to enter the political arena, there is no correct way to leave it.

It would have been something special to hear both of their voices represented in the upcoming Ontario Liberal leadership race. But one must respect the choices they have made for their own leadership trajectories.

Both leaders have a lot to be proud of as they bow out of the provincial political landscape. They served as true functionaries working to transform the systems they were empowered to lead over the course of their political careers, and dedicated, hands-on contributors to the ongoing Ontario Liberal Party rebuilding effort.

Des Rosiers squared up against and handily defeated the former Ontario ombudsman Andre Marin for her seat in a 2016 byelection and was re-elected in 2018.

Prior to serving at Queen’s Park, she was dean of the faculty of law and common law at the University of Ottawa, and served as general counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, dedicating her talents to the protection of human rights, with particular focus on the 2010 G20 summit. She was inducted into both the Order of Ontario and the Order of Canada for her work on these fronts.

Des Rosiers brought refreshingly thoughtful legal perspectives to debates and has been an outspoken defender of civil rights for a broad range of Canadians. For instance, her current private members bill aims to create independent oversight for — and eventually phase out and eliminate — the use of solitary confinement in correctional institutions across the province.

Lalonde was first elected in 2014 and entered politics with a background in health-care administration.

In government she served as chief government whip, minister of community safety and correctional services, the first minister of francophone affairs and minister of government and consumer services. Her leadership brought collaborative and community-consulted reforms to police oversight under the advice of Justice Tulloch.

She was also known to reach across the aisle when needed to achieve unanimous support from her colleagues in the legislature — in one case to reshape the commemoration of women MPPs in Ontario with a monument on legislative grounds.

Should Lalonde find herself successful in her upcoming nomination bid, and the election this fall, she will bring a great deal of strength to the federal Liberal caucus.

As sizable a void this leaves for the small but mighty Ontario Liberal caucus — which will soon fit inside a compact car rather than the famed minivan — these exits create space for two fresh, energetic voices to enter the provincial arena. With three years ahead of holding the Ford government to account, opposition benches are best stacked with thoughtful, forward thinking leaders ready to work.

Des Rosiers and Lalonde dared to lead. They entered the legislature with sleeves rolled and arms swinging, and their tenacity resulted in positive change for our collective communities.

As they take their talents to initiate change in new spaces, an opportunity awaits for a new generation of passionate and progressive leaders to step forward in these eastern Ontario ridings.

Tiffany Gooch is a Toronto-based Liberal strategist at public affairs firms Enterprise and Ensight. She is a freelance contributor for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @goocht