After months of speculation, it’s official: Kingston and the Islands MPP Ted Hsu is running to be the next leader of the Ontario Liberal Party. At an event on Sunday, May 28, 2023, Hsu officially threw his hat in the ring to replace Steven Del Duca as the next leader of the provincial party. Kingstonist caught up with Hsu the morning after his campaign launch event, and he elaborated on the decision to enter the race and on what he has to offer.
“I feel that I can help the Liberal Party as leader. I’m balanced between a fresh start and experience. I’ve got a very different background compared to other politicians, and I’ve got a lot of experience inside and outside of politics,” Hsu said.
Hsu began his political journey in 2011 when he was elected as the federal MP for Kingston and the Islands. After serving a full four-year term as the riding’s representative in Ottawa, Hsu chose to take a break from politics to focus on family life. In 2022, Hsu returned to political life; he ran as the Liberal candidate for Kingston and the Islands in that year’s provincial election and defeated the NDP’s Mary Rita Holland to become the riding’s new MPP.
Considering the Ontario Liberals have failed to hold official party status since 2018, Hsu would be in somewhat familiar territory as the leader. Throughout his four years as an MP in Ottawa, Hsu saw first-hand the work put in by now-Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his team to rebuild the third-place federal Liberal Party and win a majority victory in the 2015 election.
“One of the things you have to do when you’re the third party is be proactive and get in the news, and that’s something we tried to do a lot [when I was in Ottawa],” remarked Hsu. “We tried to stay as relevant as possible, participating in all the debates and doing the scrums… There’s a lot of work going into rebuilding a party, [like] raising money, and we did that as well.”
During his four years as an MP, Hsu was one of just 34 Liberals in Parliament, and he noted that the experience of working with a small caucus is something he’s also had to do during his time as an MPP. “When you have a small caucus, you need to work together really closely, and that’s something we did. In fact, that’s my fondest memory of Ottawa: how close we were and how closely we worked together and helped each other out. And we need to do that even more now at Queen’s Park because we don’t have official party status, which means we have less money to pay for staff, or policy, or communications. We really have to pool our resources and try to be as efficient as possible.”
While Hsu is expected to release his official policy proposals in the weeks ahead, the candidate spoke of some of the issues he plans to champion throughout his leadership campaign.
“One of the things I want to do is make sure the Ontario Liberal Party connects better with small-town rural and northern Ontario. I also want to have a vision for Ontario that has a competitive edge, where workers in our province have what it takes to be as productive as anywhere else in the world. That is a plan… for a strong and [prosperous] economy, [and] we need a strong economy to tackle all the hard problems that we have,” he said.
In terms of the issues facing Ontarians today, Hsu cited housing, health care, education, mental health and addiction, and climate change as the most pressing matters he would deal with if he were to lead the Liberal party and eventually become premier. “All these things we have to work on, and it will be important to have strong people and a strong economy,” Hsu said.
With Hsu now officially in the running for party leader, the local MPP has become one of just two candidates to formally launch their campaigns, after federal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith declared his candidacy earlier in the month. However, several high-profile politicians are expected to join the race in the months ahead, including Mississauga mayor Bonnie Crombie, who some political pundits have declared an early front runner.
As for what separates the Kingston and the Islands MPP from the rest of the competition, Hsu remarked on the unique characteristics of his riding. “I’m the only leadership candidate who has a rural part to their riding, that’s one thing… We have a military base, we have two universities and [St. Lawrence] college, we have a wind farm… So there’s lots of things in Kingston that make it a diverse place and distinguish it from the urban centre ridings that other candidates are from.”
In terms of what sets Hsu apart personally from the other candidates, the MPP noted his diverse personal and professional background as a key asset to his campaign. “I’ve worked in science, and I’ve worked in business. I managed a business line, and I worked in sustainable energy. So it’s that experience outside of politics, but also my abilities,” he said.
If the Liberals want to form government after the next provincial election, the party will need to win new seats in ridings across the entire province. Hsu noted that he has experience winning tight races, even during elections where his fellow Liberals did not fare as well.
“In 2011, when all sorts of Liberals went down in defeat, I won the federal seat in Kingston and the Islands, and we even increased the Liberal vote in votes and percentages. So I can win when the party’s losing — and that’s something the other [candidates], so far, have not needed to worry about,” the MPP remarked.
While leadership races for major political parties can turn ugly as candidates find ways to discredit their opponents in the hopes of swaying public opinion in their favour, Hsu said he believes this year’s Liberal Party leadership contest will be a positive one. “I’m actively trying to be friendly with the leadership candidates. For example, a number of us have signed each other’s nomination papers. We keep in touch,” he said.
Hsu went on to suggest that a negative campaign could be detrimental to the party as a whole. “We… we’re proactive in trying to keep it friendly. I think it’s better [that way]. [When] people start attacking each other, you’re tearing the party apart… We’re so small and beaten down that we can’t do that.”
Since Hsu officially launched his campaign over the weekend, he said the response so far has been encouraging. “The response has been quite positive, and the committee has [received] a lot of [congratulatory] notes, even from some of the other people who are running for leader,” remarked Hsu. “It’s made a bit of a splash, and I’d like people to say the word ‘Kingston’ a lot over the next few months.”
The Ontario Liberal Party leadership race will be a long one for Hsu and his opponents. Candidates have until September 5, 2023, to file their nomination papers, with party members set to cast their ballots from November 25 to 26, 2023. The party will officially announce its new leader on December 2, 2023.
As for what Hsu has in store over the next few months, the candidate said he plans to visit as many ridings as possible between now and the end of November. “Now that I’ve launched the campaign, we’re going to be putting out some policy online, but the main thing is travelling. We’re going to all the ridings, one by one by one, and talking to people face-to-face,” Hsu said.
The current MPP is not the first Liberal from Kingston and the Islands to seek the party’s leadership. In 1996 John Gerretsen ran to succeed Lyn McLeod as leader after the Liberals lost the 1995 provincial election. During the leadership convention, Gerretsen placed fifth out of seven candidates on the first ballot; he dropped out after the second round of voting, throwing his support to eventual winner Dalton McGuinty.