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Merritt Stiles has become the first candidate to enter the Ontario NDP leadership raceSEDI News

Merritt Stiles, the current education critic for Ontario’s New Democrats, became the first candidate to launch a bid to lead the party Thursday, saying she is focused on unseating the Progressive Conservative government.

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Stiles, a former school trustee, has represented the Toronto riding of Davenport since 2018 and said he wants to lead the Ontario NDP to advocate for the hard-working people of the province.

“As we move back into public life like this, people are suffering from rising grocery and rent prices — you name it,” Stiles said at his campaign launch.

“Under Doug Ford’s Conservatives, people are working harder than ever, but falling further and further behind. Spending 60 percent of your income on rent is not common. Waiting 12 hours in an emergency before you see a doctor is not normal. It is not uncommon for seniors to be sent away from their families to private care homes.

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The party’s top job became available after Andrea Horwath resigned on election night.

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Horwath, who is now running for mayor in Hamilton, has led the NDP since 2009 and saw it rise from third party to official opposition status in 2018 with 40 seats. But in this June’s election, the New Democrats slipped to 31 seats.

The party has said a new leader will be installed by March 2023 and candidates have until December to register for the race.

As the first candidate to officially announce she was in the race, Stiles also kicked off her campaign with the endorsements of fellow caucus members Christine Wong-Tam, Bhutila Karpoche and Chandra Pasma.

Several members of the NDP caucus have said they are considering possible bids for the leadership, including Laura May Lindo, who represents Kitchener Centre, and Wayne Gates, who represents Niagara Falls.

Stiles made her pitch using progressive intelligence.

“The New Democratic Party was founded by a coalition of labor and progressives that came together to create political power,” said Steeles, who worked with the artists’ union ACTRA for 10 years.

“These are our roots. They are mine too. As former Director of Bargaining and Policy, I simultaneously helped negotiate national agreements, stronger wages, better working conditions and coalition building in the labor movement.”

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The party has said that it is in a strong position financially, as well as with its supporters and volunteers.

The leader will be chosen by ranked ballots, which means voters can select the candidates they prefer in order of preference.

© 2022 The Canadian Press