The Unfortunate Tale of Steven Del Duca
Steven Del Duca became the leader of the Ontario Liberals in March of 2020. I thought that, though I had not voted for his leadership, he had a real path to bringing the Liberals back to official opposition.
If you have read or watched or listened to a pundit in Ontario, you will know that Del Duca is smart and deeply knows the issues and policies. You will also know that he is charismatically challenged, not telegenic and has little talent in generating excitement from a podium. But the man is a fantastic party organizer. Oddly, I felt that it was both his positives and his negatives that offered him a real opportunity for success and for change.
Let me digress for a moment. It was during the federal election of 2011 that I first began to understand the Leader Fetish that pervades political parties, perhaps especially Liberals. As I participated in national or regional update calls, I noted that Michael Ignatieff was never mentioned by name. Rather, he was only referenced as The Leader. And, almost reflexively, any statement that even inferred that The Leader was incorrect, had done something suboptimal or was not the obvious electoral winner was met with the kind of response one expects when telling a friend that their child is a bit homely.
Back now to Del Duca. His leadership aspirations were hardly subtle. Despite his loss of his own riding in 2018, he built an organization that dwarfed his competitors. His ability to draw Liberal members was prodigious. We had but to look at the first year or two of Doug Ford’s Premiership to see a path back to government. Steven Del Duca was the obvious choice to bring contrast to the missteps of the PC government. Del Duca became The Leader, complete with a fetishistic, quasi-religious team of long-time Liberal mandarins and advocates who knew, with the deepest faith, that he would save the party. They knew that, if the electorate had any intelligence, Del Duca would be Premier in June, 2022. If not, he has a broad back in which to aim the knives.
It must be said that the Leader Fetish applied as much to Doug Ford. During his first years as Premier, a good part of the work of his staff and caucus was to stand up and take the hits for mistakes and bad judgement. Then came COVID-19.
Ontario saw a changed person in Ford. They saw someone as impacted as they by this global pandemic. Someone who admitted his mistakes. Someone who would work with the federal government for the benefit of Ontario. Someone who was doing his best.
In Del Duca, and in Horvath too, they saw people who could only complain. Both were back seat drivers of the first order, unable to give credit for any action taken, even when positive. Even in this crisis, there only priority was how their words and actions would impact their electoral chances, should we all make it to 2022. During the election and its run-up, to listen to either would be to hear a description of Ontario as a cesspool, ruled by moustache twirling villains, where everything we value was being stolen from us. From Del Duca, they heard these things in his uniquely uncharismatic and disconnected way.
So how did I think that Del Duca could lead the Ontario Liberals back, at least, to party status or opposition?
While some Liberals are still fuming over what appeared to be too much interference in the nomination process, the party fielded a solid team of candidates, though far too late to do the real work needed in the ridings. Many of the candidates brought compelling experience in healthcare, business, and education, and would have provided the voices needed to interest voters.
Rather than giving into the Leadership Fetish, positioning Steven Del Duca as a charismatic and compelling leader, a new Mulroney or Trudeau, they could have introduced him as the capable manager and leader that Ontario needed. Imagine Del Duca as the person who introduced team members to speak inspirationally about the investments needed to bring Ontario back from the pandemic and put it on the path to improvement. Think about Del Duca as the leader who would leverage the talents of his team rather than use them as human props, smiling and waving behind him as he transparently tried to buy the votes of the electorate.
Perhaps there is a charismatic celebrity candidate already positioning themself to be the next OLP leader. Who knows, maybe there is a Trudeau or Trump who wants to be Premier and already has a team of sycophants, ready to go. But while that may make fundraising easier, I strongly believe it will make elections ever harder.
But what do I know.