Less than two years after winning a job on Parliament Hill, Ottawa Centre MP Yasir Naqvi is eyeing a return to provincial politics.
Naqvi has been criss-crossing the province to gauge support for a bid to lead Ontario’s Liberals, for which he served three terms at Queen’s Park, including three cabinet posts for former premier Kathleen Wynne.
“I am seriously exploring the possibility of seeking the leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party,” Naqvi acknowledged in an interview Wednesday, which also happened to be his 49th birthday.
His motivation, he says, is to work to protect Ontario’s public services, which he says are under attack by Premier Doug Ford and the Conservatives.
“I’m really concerned about the important public services in our province,” Naqvi said. “I strongly believe that Doug Ford is creating chaos in our public health and public education system just so that he could justify privatization. We’re starting to see that happen in the health care system and I think our education system is not going to be far behind.”
Naqvi has made swings through Windsor, London, Hamilton and in the Greater Toronto Area to meet local Liberals in what he calls a “listening tour.” He plans to make more visits in Niagara’s Golden Horseshoe and in Northern Ontario.
For 15 years, Ontario was governed by Liberal majorities until the party was steamrolled by Ford and the Conservatives in the 2018 election. The Liberals dropped to just seven seats and lost official party status. They didn’t do much better in 2022, winning eight seats under leader Stephen Del Duca. Del Duca even failed to win his own seat and promptly resigned, leaving Ottawa South MPP John Fraser as interim leader.
Naqvi said his meetings have revealed a party in disarray.
“The party is in a very difficult place. The two election losses have been devastating. As I’m travelling the province and talking to local Liberals, it’s clear that the party infrastructure is non existent and there’s very important and hard work that needs to happen to rebuild the party from a grassroots level up. We’re talking about rebuilding riding by riding, establishing local riding associations, attracting local volunteers and engaging them so they can speak to their neighbours about issues important to them. That work has not been done in some time.”
A native of Pakistan, Naqvi immigrated to Canada with his family when he was a teenager. A lawyer by training, he won his first election in Ottawa Centre in 2007.
He served in Wynne’s cabinet as minister of labour, solicitor general and attorney general. He was defeated by NDP MPP Joel Harden in 2018, but returned to politics in 2021 as an MP in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s third federal election win.
The race to lead the Ontario Liberals hasn’t officially begun, but Naqvi is already considered one of the front runners for the leadership. The party will hold a policy convention in Hamilton in early March, at which time they’ll set the rules and timing for choosing a leader. Naqvi expects the party will have a new leader before the end of the year.