The provincial election is eight months away, but the star candidates are already aligning.
All four of Ontario’s political parties are touting prominent people running for them in the June 2 campaign — including two provincial watchdogs whose jobs were axed by Premier Doug Ford shortly after the 2018 election.
On Wednesday, the New Democrats announced Irwin Elman — the province’s first and only child advocate, who served as an independent voice for youth — will run in the Toronto riding of Don Valley West.
That key Toronto riding has been represented since 2003 by former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne, who is not seeking reelection.
“We are thrilled Irwin has found his home in the NDP,” New Democratic Leader Andrea Horwath said. “We share a firm commitment to making life better for folks.”
Elman said he’s running to address “the nonsense that we have now” under the Progressive Conservative government.
He noted his mother always told him “it’s not your responsibility to change the world, but you’re not exempt from trying.”
Indeed, when asked about his chances of winning in a riding that has never been won by the NDP, Elman called it “a mistake to count the ballots before they are cast.”
“The pandemic has laid things bare for all to see,” he added.
“We have seen what happens … when government doesn’t start from a place that focuses on people’s well-being.”
In Brantford-Brant, the NDP is hoping that Harvey Bischof, a well-known former teachers’ union president, will unseat Progressive Conservative MPP Will Bouma, who won by a narrow margin in 2018.
“I still have commitment and energy to give, and I thought this was a way that I could move that forward,” said Bischof, whose tenure on the executive at the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation was the longest in its 102-year history.
Bischof, who lives in Brantford, said his focus is on the “general belief that government can be a force for good in people’s lives — it can help provide people with stability and reduce precarity and give people a chance to do something with their lives.”
Dianne Saxe, whose post as environmental commissioner was eliminated by Ford in 2018, has also thrown her hat in the partisan ring as the Green candidate in University-Rosedale, which is currently held by New Democrat Jessica Bell.
Saxe, a lawyer with a doctorate who has been internationally recognized for her work on the environment, was the party’s first candidate to be announced for next spring’s election.
As with Elman, her former position was axed as Ford tried to streamline the watchdogs overseeing the provincial government after winning power.
Saxe — whose father, Morton Shulman, was the New Democratic MPP in High Park from 1967 to 1975 — insists that while she prefers to be “non-partisan … I cannot stand aside any longer.”
“With others across Ontario, I am running to fight for a cleaner, safer, and healthier future,” the chair of Toronto’s climate advisory committee has said.
Even though the Tories won 76 of 124 legislative seats in the last election, they are still trying to add to their tally by targeting ridings represented by New Democrats and Liberals.
On Tuesday, Ford announced Timmins Mayor George Pirie would be his candidate in a traditional New Democratic stronghold now represented by veteran MPP Gilles Bisson.
“He’s one of the greatest mayors in the province,” Ford said during a campaign-style swing through the northern city, where he praised Pirie for his “leadership throughout this pandemic.”
The Tories are also aiming to pick up Scarborough-Guildwood with candidate Alicia Vianga, a small-business owner and advocate for breast cancer survivors and their families.
A well-regarded local businesswoman, Vianga owns a boutique that provides swimsuits and lingerie, as well as bra and prosthesis fittings.
While the parties have high hopes for their high-profile candidates, some will face uphill battles.
Scarborough-Guildwood, for example, is currently held by Liberal Mitzie Hunter. A respected former cabinet minister in Wynne’s government, Hunter was one of only seven Grits to retain their seats in the 2018 Conservative landslide.
Steven Del Duca’s Liberals, who had openings in 117 ridings because of the poor showing three years ago, are also bringing accomplished new people into the fold.
In Mississauga-Streetsville — now held by Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction Nina Tangri — the Liberals have attracted Jill Promoli into the fold.
Promoli is a small-business owner and mother who has been outspoken about influenza prevention and the importance of vaccinations after one of her twin sons died in 2016 at age two from the virus.
She later founded an advocacy and information group called “For Jude, For Everyone,” that has drawn international attention.
In Toronto-St. Paul’s, a one-time safe Liberal seat now represented by prominent New Democrat Jill Andrew, the Grits are fielding Dr. Nathan Stall.
Stall, who until recently was a member of the province’s COVID-19 “science table” of advisers, has, like some other doctors, gained prominence during the pandemic as an outspoken critic of the government, both on Twitter and in the mainstream media.
A specialist in internal medicine and geriatrics, he has done research on seniors and long-term care, which is now a major policy focus for all four political parties.
“Nathan’s expertise in health care is what we need to ensure Ontarians remain safe and healthy during the pandemic recovery,” Del Duca said in August.
“With Nathan at Queen’s Park, the residents of Toronto-St. Paul’s have someone in their corner who is truly ready to fight for them and their families.”