On Saturday, February 4, Marit Stiles was confirmed as the new leader of the Ontario NDP and Leader of the Opposition. She was acclaimed through an uncontested race and will carry the NDP banner in the 2025 provincial election. Currently, she is the leader in the best position to replace Premier Doug Ford as the next Premier of Ontario.

Here are 5 things you need to know about Ontario’s new Official Opposition leader.

1. Quick Electoral Rise

Marit Stiles was first elected as a school board trustee in Toronto in 2014 and was elected to the Ontario legislature in 2018. Four years later, she was re-elected to a second term as MPP for Davenport in the west end of Toronto and months later rose to become the leader of the opposition.

2. Deep Roots in the Party

Stiles was a staffer for the Ontario NDP government in the 1990s, a researcher for the federal NDP Ontario caucus from 1998 to 2004, and President of the New Democratic Party of Canada from 2016 to 2018.  Those years toiling in the backrooms gives her a tremendous Ontario-wide and national network. Her deep relationships also made her the frontrunner for the Ontario NDP leadership from the moment she declared an interest.

3. Inherits United Party, Diverse Caucus

The fact that Stiles won the leadership unopposed is more a product of her wide base of support within caucus and among the rank-and-file than a lack of interest in the job. With a team of 30 MPPs from key regions across Ontario, she leads a diverse and united caucus which serves as a strong foundation on which to build.

4, The Battle over Labour Heats Up

With Stiles at the helm, the battle over the coveted labour vote between the NDP and PCs will heat up.

In the 2022 election, with the Ontario Liberal vote collapsing, some public sector and building trade union votes were up for grabs. While the NDP picked up new support from teachers and health care workers, Doug Ford’s PCs picked up new support from skilled trades and construction unions.

Stiles recognizes the NDP needs to speak to labour. In her first official speech as leader, Stiles focused on returning the NDP to its labour roots, saying, “our party was founded by a coalition of labour, farmers and progressives, forged together to challenge the old establishment parties and build that political power.”

Speaking directly to labour, she further stated “you cannot have a strong NDP without labour and progressives from communities of all sizes. And we need to learn and build on your victories this year,” alluding to the stand-off last year between CUPE’s education workers and the Ford government. When the PCs introduced back-to-work legislation, imposed a contract and the notwithstanding clause, only to rescind it a few days later in the face of province-wide protests, the unity of the labour movement was rejuvenated, giving hope among many in organized labour and the NDP that they could again be a unified force to be reckoned with.

5. Stiles’ Road to Power

Stiles needs 33 new seats to form a majority government in 2025. To do so, she will need to make headway in the 905 region, reclaim some of the industrial and blue-collar seats lost to the Doug Ford’s PCs in the last election, and build on areas of existing strength in Toronto and Ottawa.

Stiles holds a downtown Toronto seat and is comfortable speaking to urban progressives. She’s also someone that suburban voters, especially women, will connect with. Her Newfoundland roots come through when she’s talking to people who are struggling to make ends meet. This rare combination and the ability to connect in different parts of the province will offer her opportunities to seize.

Stiles will need to broaden the traditional NDP voter coalition to appeal to enough former Ontario Liberal voters to put her over the top. The last two elections in Ontario have seen the NDP form the official opposition, while the Ontario Liberals have failed to achieve official party status at Queen’s Park. For Stiles, this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to see the NDP become the prevailing alternative to the PCs in all areas of Ontario.

What to Watch for Next  

At Queen’s Park, look for Stiles to take on Premier Ford’s plans to open the greenbelt for development and his decision to expand the use of private clinics to shorten health wait times.

In the next few months, there will be by-elections in Hamilton Centre and Kitchener Centre – both currently NDP-held seats – to contest. This will be an early test of Stiles’ popularity and give her a chance to road-test some of her messages.

With a leadership behind them, the party can devote more resources to fundraising and organization, getting ready for the 2025 election.

All leaders, especially those in government where the spotlight shines brightest, have a shelf-life with voters. Now into his fifth year as Premier, some voters will have grown tired of Doug Ford. By 2025, he’ll be eight years in; a lot of voters will be clamouring for change. For Stiles, the challenge will be to break-through, grow her party, and get known by enough voters by 2025 so that she can be seen as a viable alternative.

In the meantime, we at Counsel Public Affairs – as a multi-partisan government relations firm – wish to congratulate Marit Stiles on her election as leader of the Ontario NDP.  We look forward to working with her and wish her the best of luck.

Insights provided by Counsel’s Ontario Practice Team. For more information contact:

Michael Ras
Senior Vice President (Ontario Practice Lead)