On Saturday, March 7, the Ontario Liberal Party, previously led by former Ontario Premier Kathleeen Wynne, will elect a new leader. The winner of this election will go on to challenge current Ontario Premier Doug Ford in 2022.
Steven Del Duca is the current front-runner, with 43 per cent of the convention delegates already pledging to vote for him. The other candidates are Michael Coteau, Brenda Hollingsworth, Kate Graham, Alvin Tedjo, and Mitzie Hunter.
Provincial governments oversee postsecondary education in Canada, and have the power to direct funding and implement policies. As the election approaches, The Varsity broke down the six candidates and their platforms.
Michael Coteau is currently a Liberal MPP for Don Valley East in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, a position he has held since 2011.
As part of his campaign for the Liberal leadership race, Coteau identified the “three policy areas [that Ontarians] prioritize: the environment, the economy, and the core government services of education and health care.”
Coteau has called for greater educational equality, noting, “I want opportunities for education, skills development, training and employment to be available equitably to children, young people and adults in all our communities, across all socio-economic levels and among all socio-cultural groups.”
He also emphasized the need for greater government transparency and oversight. Specific goals include lowering the voting age to 16 and creating open access to government data for research and policymaking.
Concerning the climate crisis, Coteau plans to carry out research on fare-free public transit to determine if it is a viable and effective option. He hopes to incentivise carbon capturing and preserving natural environments, as well as invest in the electric vehicle industry.
Coteau also hopes to invest in the health care system. This includes the addition of pharma care and dental care programs along with more mental health and addiction support.
Coteau did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment.
Steven Del Duca
Steven Del Duca is a candidate for the Ontario Liberal Party leadership, having previously served as a member of Ontario legislature representing Vaughan. He also served as Minister of Transportation and Minister of Economic Development and Growth under Kathleen Wynne.
Del Duca plans to re-invest in postsecondary education following large cuts to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) made by the current Progressive Conservative government. He has created petitions to reverse the OSAP cuts made by Doug Ford’s government, along with petitions to get rid of mandatory secondary online classes and cuts to high school funding.
On health care, Del Duca supports investing in more long-term care beds in hospitals to free up rooms. He also plans to create a province-wide pharma care system.
Del Duca emphasized the need for “clean water, clean air and a liveable planet for today and for the future.”
In an email to The Varsity, Del Duca wrote, “I would immediately reverse Ford’s cuts to OSAP. And I would task a Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities to do a full review of post-secondary funding, both for students and for institutions.”
Brenda Hollingsworth is an Ottawa-based lawyer running for leader of the Liberal party in Ontario. In an interview with The Varsity, Hollingsworth said that one of her motivations to run was “the fact that we have desperately uneven access to health care in Ontario,” as she has seen through her work on the inaccessibility of health care for rural Ontarians.
When asked what she feels is the biggest issue facing postsecondary students in Ontario, Hollingsworth responded that graduating students do not have the necessary skills to be successful in the workforce, and she believes this can be rectified by “increasing the amount of experience-based learning that’s available in our universities and colleges.”
She described the changes made to OSAP under current Premier Doug Ford as “problematic,” and expressed interest in creating a program similar to the free tuition program under former Premier Kathleen Wynne. “There’s no question that anybody who has the desire and ability to attend postsecondary should be able to do it and there should be a way to have manageable loans,” said Hollingsworth.
She identifies as a political outsider due to her experience in the private sector. “I come to it with an entirely fresh perspective,” she said.
Kate Graham is running for leader of the Ontario Liberal party. “My strong background in post secondary education is one of the reasons [why] it’s such a priority for me,” said Graham, who teaches at three Ontario postsecondary institutions.
In an interview with The Varsity, Graham said she is committed to returning to a free tuition program that would give free tuition to approximately 234,000 low- and middle-income students. Graham’s tuition plan would account for the costs of relocating or commuting to attend school. “I think that will improve the accessibility of postsecondary [education] for many people in Ontario, especially those living in the north or in rural areas,” said Graham.
Her experience teaching has also “been a good affirmation that we need to invest in more mental health support on campus.”
Graham identified the biggest problems facing Ontario as social and economic inequality and the climate crisis. To address economic inequality, Graham said she was in favor of universal basic income and moving toward a living wage. To combat the climate crisis, Graham would like to see more investment in public transit and increasing affordability of electric vehicles.
Alvin Tedjo is a former senior policy advisor at the Ministry of Colleges and Universities and a candidate in the Liberal Party leadership election.
One of the main tenets of Tedjo’s platform is the implementation of basic income in Ontario. This plan would create an income floor of $17,000 to “support people who need it,” said Tedjo.
Tedjo would reverse cuts made to OSAP under Doug Ford’s government and also reinstate free tuition for low-income families.
When asked about the mental health crisis at universities, Tedjo noted that a number of reports on this topic emerged a few years ago, and he would follow their recommendations. In addition, Tedjo emphasized the importance of having emergency mental health services available rather than appointments which can require months-long wait times.
As far as student housing, Tedjo agrees that an increase in supply is necessary, however, he also believes government regulations need to be changed to include “more affordable housing in new builds as well as making it easier for co-ops to exist and to thrive.”
As MPP for the Scarborough—Guildwood riding, Mitzie Hunter was one of seven Liberals elected in the 2018 provincial elections and was Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development at the tail-end of the Wynne government.
Under Hunter, OSAP would be restored to the state it was prior to Ford government cuts and she would also introduce a two-year interest-free grace period to repay loans.
Housing for students is also a priority for Hunter. She would implement inclusionary zoning for the development of student housing, as well as a co-living program pairing students with seniors.
Though Hunter did not provide The Varsity with a specific plan for addressing the lack of reliable transit in Scarborough, she affirmed that she will “continue to fight for a better transit plan in Scarborough until it’s right.”
Hunter’s plan addresses student mental health through initiatives including expanding the OHIP to cover mental health services for everyone under the age of 30. As well, Hunter would make “a firm commitment” to eradicate waitlists for mental health services for individuals 21 and under.
Should Hunter be elected Liberal leader, her campaign would focus on making the Liberals a “modern and inclusive party.”