Ontario Liberal leader Steven Del Duca sits down with The Journal

A year away from provincial election, Liberal leader talks rebuilding job market for graduating students

The next provincial election is scheduled for June 2, 2022.
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Over the next year, Steven Del Duca will be trying to climb the Ontario Liberal party out from the basement.

After losing 38 legislative seats along with official party status in the 2018 election—holding just eight of the 124 seats by the end of the vote—the party’s new leader is preparing to hop on the campaign trail ahead of the June 2, 2022 election.

Del Duca, now less than three weeks away from releasing the party’s platform for the 2022 vote, sat down with The Journal to discuss his vision for a province that will likely be rebuilding from COVID-19 come election time.

When it comes to assisting post-secondary students with their entrance into the fractured job market, supporting hard-hit small businesses while helping students gain the skills needed to fit the evolving labour market conditions will be critical, Del Duca said.

“I think finding ways to help students make choices that align with the kind of work that will be available, and a lot of it’s actually really good-paying, good-benefits work people should be looking for,” he said.

This vision includes universal childcare, which he said “we need to stop talking about […] and deliver on,” referencing spiralling participation rates among women in the economy during COVID-19 due to the often unequal burden of childcare.

“I think that would help us close, I’ll call it the gender gap, in the workforce.”

Del Duca also referenced mental health, one of the broad platform pillars he outlined in the leadup to the party’s platform release.

He acknowledged how mental health has “plummeted” during COVID-19 and that, after years of student calls for enhanced mental health services on campus, improving wait times for treatment will feature heavily in the upcoming platform. He compared the strategy to how the current healthcare system assesses surgery wait times, which show the average time to diagnosis and treatment.

Ontario currently doesn’t have tangible metrics for mental health service wait times. His goal is to see wait times top out at 30 days “whether you’re on a university campus or living in a remote community in the north.”

“When you measure things, you know when you have to make improvements,” he said

On the topic of financial accessibility for post-secondary students, Del Duca bit at current Premier Doug Ford’s decisions since taking office nearly three years ago.

“I have not been happy with virtually every change they’ve made that we brought to bringing financial assistance to students,” he said. “They made the process worse, they made it less accessible […] one of the important things for me is to find a way to build in accessibility, more affordability.”

While he didn’t comment directly on his thoughts regarding moratoriums on student loan repayments, he said student debt isn’t beneficial to the health of Ontario’s economy, adding that his platform will aim to bring substantial relief to students paying for university, college, or skills training.

“[Student debt] doesn’t work. It’s bad for the economy, it’s bad for the students, it’s bad for Ontario’s economy.”

In form with the 2018 election’s data, voters between the ages of 18 and 34 will make up the largest potential voter demographicin 2022—but continue to be the least likely to cast a ballot. 

Del Duca sympathized with what he characterized as cynicism among young voters in the current political framework.

“Too many politicians for too many years have made it that much easier for people to tune out […] and millennial voters feel like their vote doesn’t matter,” he said.

Returning to the labour market, he said regardless of how well-paying one’s job might be, he’s also concerned about the cost of living across the province for young adults.

“[I]f you’re starting out your life and you’re relatively young and you’re just getting a hold of your career path […] it’s really not affordable anymore to purchase a home or a condo or a townhouse, or whatever it is you’re looking for,” he said.

“I actually get scared at what the cost of housing will be for my daughters,” Del Duca said, whose daughters are 9 and 13.

In whole, Del Duca said he’s hoping to regain Ontario’s belief in the Liberal party on the campaign trail over the coming year.

“I think it’s ideas, it’s how those ideas are delivered, and it’s earning trust.”

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