By AMARACHI AMADIKE, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Supporters gathered at Variety Village in southwest Scarborough on Tuesday, May 9 to celebrate Nathaniel Erskine-Smith’s official announcement to transition to provincial politics.
“There were people there who’ve been with me since the nomination,” said Erskine-Smith.. “It was a really great way to start the campaign with such strong local support.”
The Liberal MP for Beaches-East York, who has held his seat since 2015, officially made his intentions to seek the leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party known last week. With only eight seats at Queen’s Park, Erskine-Smith believes he possesses the qualities required to breathe new life into the struggling provincial party.
During the lead up to his announcement, he identified the process of building a team “in every corner of the province” that represents Ontario’s geographic diversity as the biggest obstacle.
However, he told Beach Metro Community News in an interview that another challenge in provincial politics today is the lack of trust.
“[This is] in part because this government hasn’t kept its promises,” he said. “Putting ideas in the window in order to win an election rather than thinking about what are the right ideas to serve the province.”
Having been involved in politics for almost a decade now, Erskine-Smith said he understands this mistrust as he has “seen up close that there are faults to politics”. However, he said that he still holds a belief that there is no better way to make a difference within our communities.
“I don’t think there was overwhelming support for Doug Ford this past election,” said Erskine-Smith. “People just didn’t think that they had an alternative. And you have to give them a really strong alternative.”
Erskine-Smith hopes that he can lead the Ontario Liberal Party into providing this alternative.
Although his leadership campaign strategy will revolve around affordability, health care and mental health support, the 38-year-old said that climate change will also play a factor as there are many Progressive Conservatives who will vote for a party with a serious climate plan.
Galvanizing climate support from a conservative crowd might seem a difficult task, but the Liberal MP believes that many are beginning to understand not just the importance of climate action, but the economic benefits of reducing greenhouse emissions as well.
“At the federal level we’ve made major investments to bend the curb of emissions to protect the planet,” said Erskine-Smith. “But increasingly, whether it’s in critical minerals or battery manufacturing in the automotive sector, there are so many jobs that are being created and will be created with a serious focus on clean energy and climate action.”
Erskine-Smith also took aim at the Province of Ontario’s current housing plan. Although depicting that there’s an ambition to build 1.5 million homes within the next decade, he said it’s vital that Ontario’s government treats housing “as a home first and an investment second”.
With homelessness reaching all-time highs and Toronto City Council declaring a state of emergency in an attempt to persuade the federal and provincial government to further invest in the city, Erskine-Smith points blame at the province’s shortcomings for the current state of affairs.
“The provincial government has been entirely missing in action,” said Erskine-Smith as he urged them to provide finance for wrap-around support by third party agencies such as WoodGreen Community Services.
Prior to his leadership bid announcement, Erskine-Smith visited 50 ridings across the province building a team that he believes will meet the demands of the province.
“It’s a story I’ve heard repeatedly. Whether it’s locally, northern or western Ontario, the province is not pulling its weight when it comes to addressing chronic homelessness,” he said.
Having introduced various legislations that have become part of the federal government’s agenda – legislations which address issues like the opioid crisis, or privacy protection – Erskine-Smith said he is hoping to duplicate his past successes.
“There are so many different ways I’ve been able to make a difference at the federal level in the back bench,” he said. “But there’s a huge opportunity to make an even bigger difference in a leadership role at the provincial level.”
It is currently unclear what provincial riding Erskine-Smith would look to represent if he wins the leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party. He said there isn’t a particular riding he is eyeing at the moment and will run in the “first available winnable riding”.
Although he holds a position in the House of Commons, there is no obligation to relinquish his seat while campaigning for the provincial leadership but Erskine-Smith, who has been juggling provincial leadership plans with continued service to his constituents, said a decision on that will be made over the summer.
“It’s been a lot of work, but I’ve been able to wear both hats for the last number of months,” he said. “At some point, if I feel I am unable to serve constituents in the same way –or do the job that I set out to do on behalf of neighbours here in Beaches-East York – then I’ll step away.”
Voting through a ranked-ballot system for the Ontario Liberal Party leadership doesn’t occur until Nov. 25 and Nov. 26. The winner is expected to be declared on Dec. 2.
Amarachi Amadike is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro Community News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.
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