Spurred by what he considers an “incompetent conservative majority government,” Beaches—East York Liberal MP Nate Erskine-Smith is kicking the tires for an Ontario Liberal Party leadership run.
“I got involved almost 10 years ago now because the Liberal party was in third place and the Conservative party was incredibly frustrating in power,” he said of his current role in federal politics, drawing a direct parallel to the current situation in Ontario provincial politics.
His goal, he added, is to “displace a really frustratingly incompetent government,” which he said hasn’t adequately addressed such issues as housing affordability, health care and education.
“The tools to address housing affordability mostly reside at a provincial level, so there’s a huge opportunity to make a difference.”
Sudbury.com met with Erskine-Smith at Twiggs Coffee Roasters in Sudbury on Thursday to ask him about his potential leadership run, and where the Greater Toronto Area-based politician’s aspirations might fit Northern Ontario’s political landscape.
“Integrity matters more than geography, and how you act matters more than where you’re from,” he said.
Born in east Toronto, raised in east Toronto and representing east Toronto federally for the past seven and a half years as a Liberal MP, he said there’s no denying where he’s coming from.
“The only way I do this seriously is by building a team of people absolutely everywhere, including here in Northern Ontario,” he said.
Various issues affecting Northern Ontario are common throughout the province, he added.
For him, mental health and addictions, the opioid crisis, limited access to primary care, housing affordability all immediately come to mind.
“These are challenges that are acute in Northern Ontario, and they exist in Windsor, they exist in the GTA, and any serious provincial government’s got to be addressing issues that affect every single community, including here in Northern Ontario,” he said.
In Greater Sudbury, city council has been advocating for the province to fund the health-care-related operational expenses incurred at the supervised consumption site and the upcoming transitional housing complex.
When it comes to the transitional housing complex, the city is already funding a preliminary Assertive Community Treatment Team of health-care professionals at a temporary pilot site. The team will shift to the transitional housing complex site on Lorraine Street when it opens later this year.
The facilities’ operations are under provincial jurisdiction, but the province has yet to step forward with funding.
Although too early in his tire-kicking to begin making specific pledges, Erskine-Smith said they offer important services the province should be funding.
Police should be focused on things such as violent crime, he said, adding that addressing mental health and addictions will also protect public safety.
“The answer is to ensure there’s on-demand treatment available for when they are ready to seek treatment so they get the help that they need when they need it. We know what the answers are, but the answers need to be funded.”
Erskine-Smith’s Sudbury visit was bookended by trips to North Bay on Wednesday and Espanola on Friday. His time in Sudbury also included meeting with Greater Sudbury Police Service board chair and Ward 8 Coun. Al Sizer, local Liberal Gerry Lougheed, and tours of Laurentian University and Cambrian College, capping things off with a pub night in Nickel Belt.
Ontario Liberal Party officials are currently figuring out when a new leader will be elected, but Erskine-Smith said he hopes to see something take place by the end of the year.
Past Sudbury NDP MP and Liberal MPP Glenn Thibeault was considering an Ontario Liberal Party leadership run last year, but told Sudbury.com this week that he has decided against it.
“I’m still involved in political life, just on the other side of the desk,” he said, adding that he has been keeping busy as the executive director of government affairs for Diabetes Canada.
Sudbury.com connected with Thibeault by phone on Thursday, while he was in Ottawa meeting with federal officials.
From Ontario Liberal Party members, he said he’d heard from people that they’ve “stopped talking to people who shower at the end of the day,” and that there are a lot of those folks in Sudbury and Northern Ontario.
The successful leadership candidate will need to stickhandle that, he said, “and match the passion and the power that comes from northern Ontario.”
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.