TORONTO — Ontario's governing Liberals are scrambling to fill major gaps in their roster just two months before a spring vote after several long-serving legislators, including cabinet ministers, announced they won't be seeking re-election.
Three Liberal members of the legislature said Thursday they won't be running in the June election, the latest in a string of senior Liberals who have bowed out.
Minister of Consumer Services and Persons with Disabilities Tracy MacCharles, International Trade Minister Michael Chan, and legislator Grant Crack announced their plans to leave political life in separate statements.
Both MacCharles and Chan cited health concerns as the primary reason for their decision without providing details.
The Progressive Conservatives, however, painted the wave of Liberal departures as individuals "jumping off a sinking ship," and suggested legislators were balking at defending their record on the campaign trail.
The Tories noted at least half a dozen Liberal legislators have yet to put themselves forward as candidates and predicted others would also opt not to run.
Premier Kathleen Wynne brushed off the Tories' suggestion, saying her departing colleagues had made "very difficult decisions" for personal, not political, reasons.
"Up until a short time ago they all three had intended to run," she said, praising them for their years of public service.
While the outgoing legislators may have personal reasons to move on, the timing of their announcements suggests they were likely aware they would have faced a battle to keep their seats, said Andrea Lawlor, a political science professor at Western University's King's University College.
This may be a way for them to leave politics without facing a potential defeat, given the apparent public desire for change, she said.
The Liberals' loss of some of their most recognizable names isn't likely to be a game-changer in the election, but finding suitable and compelling replacements on short notice will prove logistically challenging at a time where the party is already on the ropes, she said.
"The party is working with brand new candidates, these might be individuals who are completely fresh to politics," she said. "Does the party have time to go out and recruit high-profile candidates? Do they have the time to do all the candidate vetting that they might have wanted to do? Probably not."
Still, the Liberals, who have been in power for 15 years, can frame the fresh faces as much-needed renewal amid criticism the party has grown stale and entrenched, Lawlor said.
The latest departures come weeks after Eric Hoskins announced he was stepping down as provincial health minister and legislator for the Toronto riding of St. Paul's to work with Ottawa on a national pharmacare program.
Last October, Deputy Premier Deb Matthews and Treasury Board Secretary Liz Sandals both announced they did not intend to seek re-election.
Their announcements came on the heels of similar decisions by Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid, house speaker Dave Levac, and Monty Kwinter, the province's oldest member of provincial parliament. Former Environment Minister Glen Murray left the government altogether with a move to the private sector.
The Liberals have named three potential candidates for the seats left vacant Thursday and are holding open nominations for two of the other ridings where the incumbents won't be running, they said. Candidates have already secured nominations in several other ridings whose representatives have left.
MacCharles, who has represented the Toronto-area riding of Pickering-Scarborough East for the past seven years, said the decision not to run in the spring election was one of the most difficult she has ever made.
"I have concluded that this is what is best for my constituents, my health and my family," she said.
Chan, who first became a member of provincial parliament in 2007, said his own health concerns had "recently developed" and said his decision not to seek re-election was a necessary one.
"My political career has been an unparalleled experience — a chance to contribute to shaping the future, to meet so many wonderful Ontarians, to promote the vibrancy and beauty of our province to the world," said Chan, who indicated he would continue to serve as campaign co-chair ahead of the election.
Crack, who represented the eastern-Ontario riding of Glengarry-Prescott-Russell and served as parliamentary assistant to the minister of agriculture, said he plans to seek other career opportunities and expressed confidence that his seat would remain in Liberal hands despite the fact that the governing party has been trailing in recent polls.
Paola Loriggio , The Canadian Press