Former federal cabinet minister Navdeep Bains is being touted as a potential Ontario Liberal leadership candidate, sources told the Star.
Bains, 45, is generating buzz in the party and a nascent “Draft Nav” movement is building among Liberals who feel he could challenge Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford in 2026.
“He knows the 905, he’s a superb organizer and he knows the province really well,” said a senior Liberal, who like others interviewed, spoke confidentially in order to discuss internal deliberations.
Another Liberal noted Bains was a key architect of the federal party’s rebuilding before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took power in 2015 — including the switch from delegated leadership conventions to the more accessible one-member-one-vote system adopted by the provincial Grits two weeks ago.
“Nav knows how to recruit candidates, help local riding (associations), raise money and he would invigorate and excite the Liberals who didn’t show up” in the 2018 and 2022 elections, said the insider.
Bains, a former innovation minister who left federal politics in 2021 and is now the CIBC’s vice-chair of global investment banking, was unavailable for comment Thursday.
A third high-ranking Liberal who has worked with the Brampton-raised Mississauga resident on campaigns and in the federal government said “he is ideally suited for the time and place.”
“He has the ability to, in a short time, build appeal with the public. I think people will like him the more they are exposed to him,” said the veteran Liberal.
“I also think he has the right sensibility to be successful in the province. Progressive but practical. A great appreciation for social progress and attentive to economic growth and growing prosperity,” the Grit said.
Bains has “a relatable manner outside of GTA but a strong connect with aspiring populations in suburbs,” the Liberal added.
“As a tactical matter, I think he would quickly generate internal support where the energy in the party is: youth (and) racialized communities.”
A popular figure in federal and provincial Liberal circles, Bains is also respected by Ford’s Tories after working closely with the premier and Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli to attract jobs to Ontario.
“He would be a game-changer for the (Liberals) because he could put a bunch of seats in play that we hold in Mississauga, in Brampton, in Scarborough,” said a Conservative insider, who also spoke confidentially.
“I still think Ford wins next time, but Bains would be a more formidable opponent than any of the other candidates being mentioned,” the Tory said, conceding the former federal minister lacks the electoral “baggage” of some other Liberal hopefuls.
Rookie MPPs Stephanie Bowman (Don Valley West) and Ted Hsu (Kingston and the Islands) are exploring leadership bids, as are MPs Nathaniel Erskine-Smith (Beaches-East York) and Yasir Naqvi (Ottawa Centre), a former provincial cabinet minister and party president.
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie — who, like Bains, attended the Liberals’ annual general meeting in Hamilton earlier this month — has also been touted as a possible candidate.
“(Bains) can organize and fundraise and wasn’t part of the Wynne-McGuinty governments,” continued the PC insider, referring to former premiers Kathleen Wynne and Dalton McGuinty, who governed from 2003 until 2018.
Indeed, during last spring’s election campaign, the Tories’ attack ads claimed Liberal leader Steven Del Duca was “Wynne’s right-hand man” even though the two had not been close when he sat in her cabinet. Del Duca was elected mayor of Vaughan last October.
While some leadership hopefuls would like to see a contest this year, people backing potential candidates like Bains or Crombie would prefer it in 2024 to give them more flexibility to plan campaigns.
The party’s newly elected president, former Wynne cabinet minister Kathryn McGarry, said earlier this month the executive needs time to determine when to hold a leadership vote and set the rules of the race, such as entry fees.
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