Doorstep Postings: Nathaniel Erskine-Smith’s theory of how the Ontario Liberals can be saved through generational change

Nathaniel Erskine-Smith on the provincial leadership campaign trail, June 21, 2023.

This is a special edition of Doorstep Postings, the periodic political commentary column written by Josh Lieblein for The CJN.

During our interview about his pursuit of the Ontario Liberal leadership, Nathaniel Erskine-Smith had a question for me: What are the Jewish issues that matter?

I was a little thrown by the question, given how he has plenty of young Jews working on his team. But, for the record, I told him to talk to as many community members as possible—and really listen.

“I’ve got an incredibly strong Jewish group on my team,” Erskine-Smith confirms, name-checking.Corey Shefman and Zack Babins. “There’s a real demand for seriousness and authenticity, and to tackle the big picture challenges facing our province, and I think that appeals to Jewish voters and voters across the province.

“It’s easy for politicians to go after the short term, but much harder to lead with principle and integrity.”

The 39-year-old MP for the Beaches-East York riding of toronto draws a parallel between the next provincial election and the 2015 red wave that catapulted him and a different third-place Liberal party into government: “I’m asking the same question now as I did then, which is, ‘How do you make the biggest change with the time that you’ve got?’”

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And while he emphasizes working across party lines, Erskine-Smith dismisses the senior Liberals who wanted Ontario Greens leader Mike Schreiner to lead their party instead. “We don’t need to borrow our principles from another party,” he tells me. “We are working to deliver change within the OLP itself.”

With a decision date of December 2, the contest to lead the party has four declared candidates as of June: Ted Hsu, a current Liberal MPP from Kingston; Yasir Naqvi, who’s represented Ottawa-Centre provincially and now federally; and current Mississauga mayor Bonnie Crombie—who’s considered the front-runner. (Don Valley East MPP Adil Shamji hasn’t ruled out a bid.)

Revitalization by generational change is one of three main leadership campaign themes for Erskine-Smith. The other two involve redefining the provincial party as more than critics of the Ontario PCs by “rebuilding trust, and governing with honesty and integrity,” and “developing serious solutions to big challenges” in the areas of health care, education, the economic agenda, and environmental protection.

But the main issue where Erskine-Smith seeks to define himself is through his embrace of YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard) policies. “The next election will see the issue of housing elevated to the same level as bread-and-butter issues like health care and education,” he predicts. “We can’t afford more NIMBYism, as we have to keep pace with population growth. Governments need to get out of the way, we need to end exclusionary zoning, and we definitely need stronger tenant protections.

“It’s not enough to set targets or to make a task force on housing. All the housing experts agree on this.”

“We have to do something about younger people being worse off than their parents and leaving their home communities,” he says. “It’s time to stop planning for the short-term.” 

Josh Lieblein can be reached at [email protected] for your response to Doorstep Postings.