TORONTO — Steven Del Duca is gone before most Ontarians ever got to know him.
The Liberal leader stepped down Thursday night after his party again failed to secure official party status and he was unable to win his own seat for the second straight election.
Del Duca, who took on the party leadership days before the first COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, left his post saying the Liberals who managed to secure seats would serve the province well.
“I have no doubt that the women and men that Ontario Liberals have elected to the legislature will do their part, in fact will do more than their part, to help grow a new and energetic progressive movement here in Ontario,” he said.
The father of two daughters, Del Duca often wove stories about his personal life into his policy announcements – that he spends his Saturday mornings grocery shopping, and that his elderly parents are aging at home – in an effort to make him known to voters.
But perhaps the most known fact about him was that he was a cabinet minister in Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government – a fact the Progressive Conservatives brought up almost daily, and the exact opposite of the fresh-faced image the Liberals had sought after their historic defeat in 2018.
Throughout the writ period, Del Duca dodged questions about his legacy in office – particularly as transportation minister – often deflecting by saying it would be a new party under a new leader.
He stuck to his script as the campaign wore on – and as polls looked increasingly dire for his party – that the Ontario Liberals were progressive voters’ best alternative to Ford’s Tories, despite holding just seven seats when provincial parliament dissolved.
That approach began to grate on some progressive voters, as Del Duca and his New Democrat rival spent significant time in the back half of the campaign attacking each other rather than showing openness to working together.
His platform was based on promises that he positioned as his own family values – including building a strong public education system and ensuring seniors have the option to age with dignity at home with better access to home care.
Affordability on things like grocery bills was another key focus, with Del Duca’s party promising to make transit rides $1 and to remove provincial HST on prepared foods over $20.
Those close to Del Duca have said he became interested in politics as a teenager, volunteering in the 1988 election with the Liberals.
He was elected to the legislature in 2012 and served in Wynne’s government before losing his seat in 2018 along with most of the caucus.
Before this year’s campaign kicked off, Liberals said Del Duca’s lack of a seat actually positioned him well to focus on recruiting candidates and listening to voters.
He ditched his signature glasses shortly before the campaign began and once the race was on, he and the party made efforts to introduce the leader to people.
The Liberals ran a series of online ads in which Del Duca opened up about losing his brother to a car accident, his wife’s battle with cancer and his home life with his young daughters.
Del Duca swore he wouldn’t lose his seat again during the campaign – a reality he faced Thursday night.
“I thought for sure this time he would get at least his seat,” one supporter told a local news reporter staking out Del Duca’s campaign night event, noting that he’s lived in the community all his life. “He’s worked so hard.”
On Thursday, Del Duca wished Ford would “lead our province well” in his second term as premier.
“I mean that sincerely, because above all else, I’m a dad,” he said. “I trust that the incredible responsibility of leading this great province will weigh heavily on Mr. Ford. I know that it would for me.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2022.