Humility, empathy are key to Ontario Liberals’ rebuild

The results of the provincial election delivered a devastating blow to the Ontario Liberal Party. This week, the remaining members of caucus met and unanimously endorsed John Fraser as interim leader as the party embarks on its rebuilding process.

After 15 years spent sensibly building the province of Ontario, the Ontario Liberal Party now enters a chapter of deep self-reflection in preparation for the way forward.

This is a process I hope the party takes its time with, carefully and inclusively.

While Premier Doug Ford goes about dismantling some of the proudest accomplishments of our previous governments, the Liberal caucus will have to work alongside its progressive colleagues in the legislature to hold Ford accountable to the needs of every Ontarian.

It will be important to cut through the distractions, observe carefully and remain critical of each decision made by this new government.

In Kathleen Wynne’s emotional and captivating speech on election night, one line stood out as she spoke of the party’s leadership transition: “There is another generation and I am passing the torch to that generation.”

That generation has waited patiently for the torch. Premier Dalton McGuinty would consistently remind young liberals that they carried an important function in the party — of rocking the boat without tipping it over.

Well, we capsized. And today the youthful voice of the Ontario Liberal Party has an opportunity to share an equal part in modernizing the ship.

There is no need to rush into the formal leadership process. There are intergenerational and regional dialogues that should take place first, in order to connect, share and align a variety of visions as we embark on this new chapter.

Who are Liberals? Builders. Forward thinkers. Fairness seekers. A family of political organizers and supporters who believe better is always possible and who set out to improve our province through the system.

There is a quote by Les Giblin I’ve used to guide my approach to political organization that says: “You can’t make the other fellow feel important in your presence if secretly you feel they are a nobody.”

With that in mind, I hope those who enter the permanent leadership race bring a key quality to the table: humility, with an ability to empathize with Ontarians from all walks of life.

We have a great many relationships to heal and cultivate. Each Liberal ambassador, and the leader especially, will need to undertake this process humbly to earn back the trust of the electorate.

I remember the first time I voted Liberal. At 18 years old, my mother reminded me it was a secret ballot and refused to share her decision so I could independently come to my own.

She encouraged me to look at the values of each party and the track record for delivering on their promises. She made sure I researched the local candidates and understood the role they played in advocating for our community’s needs.

Over the years, and especially during this most recent election, there have been moments when I disagreed with decisions and directions being set by the Liberal party. But that is the beauty of political discourse — the avenues in place to fight for our beliefs while shaping the way forward.

Our leaders can’t be afraid to innovate, while cultivating a culture of inclusivity and respect for the ideas brought forward by our wide range of supporters. Further, they must work diligently to address the issues facing us today with a steady eye on the challenges of the future.

Ontario has elected a government aiming to turn back the clock on climate change initiatives while offering no plans to address the local economic impacts brought by automation and rapidly changing technologies.

In four years’ time, more than ever, Ontario will require a government willing to tackle our biggest challenges with balanced, creative and cutting-edge approaches.

With his grassroots organizing experience, Fraser is an excellent choice for a difficult role, and it’s a difficult task that lies ahead of him as interim leader. But he doesn’t stand alone.

In the coming months and years, over the course of the rebuild, the voice and future of the Ontario Liberal Party will be heard and felt from all corners of the province.

Tiffany Gooch is a Liberal strategist at public affairs firms Enterprise and Ensight and an advocate for increased cultural and gender diversity in Canadian politics.

(Published in The Toronto Star on Sunday, June 17, 2018)