Discover more from Scrimshaw Unscripted
Nathaniel Erskine-Smith On Ethics, Democratic Renewal, And The Point Of The OLP
There’s no way I’m going to write an intro that’s any good for this, so: I got the chance to talk to Federal MP for Beaches-East York and prospective/potential/widely tipped to be Ontario Liberal Leadership candidate Nathaniel Erskine-Smith this week, it was a great conversation, and I’m grateful as hell to Nate for making the time for me.
We chatted about music (he’s a big fan of John Prine, I’m incredibly jealous of him for seeing Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan in concert together), Toronto sports (others without my Expos lineage will be jealous of him being in the stands for Joe Carter’s home run, and he thinks this is the year the Leafs win at least a round), and Neil Young (his favourite song is Heart of Gold, which is more than good enough by my snobbish standards), but more importantly we got into politics.
I asked him three questions – how can the Ontario Liberals convince Ontarians they’re better than Ford on issues of corruption, what he thinks is the future of the electoral reform movement in Ontario and what he learned from the federal experience, and why he thinks the Ontario Liberal Party is the right vehicle for progressivism in the Ford era. His answers are below, only edited for clarity.
On Restoring Trust In Politics
“I would say there’s no question integrity is essential in our politics if we care about trust in our democracy, and I would point to a lack of confidence, a lack of compassion, and a lack of integrity at Queens Park as motivations for getting involved in and delivering on those values. I would point to over 7 years in politics now of acting consistently with how I promised to conduct myself, where I disagreed with the government at times, I’ve certainly approached politics, I think, I hope people will see this in an ethical manner, with integrity and a sense of honesty and one can promise a great deal when it comes to integrity and honesty but I think ultimately you have to lean on a track record.
In 2015 there was a certain hopefulness around what I was promising my constituents and in subsequent elections I’ve had a track record to defend. I don’t think there’s any perfect answer to overcome some of the challenges whether it is at the federal or provincial level of past Liberal governments, but I’m my own person I’ve not been in those governments, and I have my own track record and I have to lean on that track record.”
On Electoral Reform
“I was one of two Liberals, Sean Casey and I, voted for the Electoral Reform committee result, I wrote an Op-Ed at the time which made me no friends, I definitely spent time on the whips couch for that, I basically apologized for the broken promise and said we shouldn’t have broken it in the way we did. I continue to believe that in a representative democracy like ours, our democracy should be more representative of where we live and electoral reform is a huge part of that, and electoral reform is a huge part of a broader conversation around democratic renewal and trust in our politics.
I think for me, freer votes in the House of Commons and a sense of more grass roots politics is part of the package which we have fulfilled at a federal level but there have been, in fits and starts, more successes than failures, but electoral reform looms large as one of those failures. Provincially, it’s not lost on me that we secured 24% of the vote and we have only 8 seats at Queen’s Park and First Past The Post was very harsh for the Ontario Liberal Party at the last election. That said, I don’t think anybody will believe me if I were to say that 2026 will be the last election under First Past The Post and it’s very important we make promises we can actually act on, and my experience at the federal level has been this is a very hard conversation to bring everybody along for.
This isn’t a priority for everyone and especially after how things took place at the federal level, I think it will be a difficult conversation for Liberals to all find common ground on, so my commitment right now, and I’ve had conversations with folks at Fair Vote Canada, I think the commitment has to be it’s been over 20 years since we had a conversation around electoral reform in Ontario, this past election was an example of the disastrous consequences that First Past The Post can deliver, we have an incompetent populism at Queen’s Park with a majority government because of First Past The Post, the Liberal Party is reduced to non-official party status because of First Past The Post despite broader popularity, and so we have to revisit the conversation, whether that’s a Citizen’s Assembly or some other mechanism, I don’t think we should be as focused on outcomes as we should be focused on process. I’m committed to revisiting the conversation and avoiding hard and fast outcomes.”
On Why He’s Still Committed To The Ontario Liberals As The Right Progressive Answer
“Because for me, when I looked at entering politics in a more serious way, the Liberal Party best combines the values of seriousness, competence, fairness, compassion, honesty and integrity, and those are core values you need to hold on to, the core values you need to build upon. And when I look at the need to replace the Ford administration given my frustrations with the health care system, my frustrations with the education system, my frustrations with housing affordability, my frustrations with the lack of environmental protections and climate action, the Liberal Party is in the best place to put up a serious and credible example to address those concerns and do so in a way that is going to be credibly progressive at times – I think my track record of being a progressive around treating drug use as a health care issue, around environment action, around poverty reduction – but at the same time, we must advance those progressive agenda with a sense of fiscal discipline and really hammer home a strong economic message.
We don’t talk enough in the Liberal Party through the increasing years about economic prosperity, about ensuring we are delivering a strong economic agenda. Our politics is at our best when the Liberals are offering a strong, left wing progressive agenda while also offering a strong economic agenda, and we can do both.”
(Once again, my thanks to Nate for his time.)