Four of five people, vying for leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party, have vowed to reopen the Minden emergency department should they become premier in the 2026 election.

Nate Erskine-Smith, Ted Hsu, Yasir Naqvi, and Adil Shamji were at Rotary Park Minden Sept. 16, attending a BBQ by the HaliburtonKawartha Lakes-Brock (HKLB) provincial Liberal association. Sixty members attended, questioning the candidates on health care, education, and the economy, said association spokesperson, Donna Aziz.

“We are thrilled with the turnout, and the candidates took the time during the middle of their campaigns to come up and meet voters in HKLB,” Aziz said. “It’s important we start to rebuild [trust] in the party as the Liberals try to pull things together ahead of the next election so that we can challenge (Premier Doug) Ford.”

Erskine-Smith is serving his third term as MP for the Beaches-East York riding. Erskine-Smith said he’s played a key role in rebuilding the federal Liberal party over the past eight years and sees an opportunity to do the same thing at the provincial level.

He said health care was the number one issue brought up by members at Saturday’s event.

“It’s a human resource crisis that’s cutting deep across emergency rooms all over the province. People are rightly concerned about a lack of access to family health teams, mental health and addictions programs, home and community care for seniors, so improving health care has to be the priority,” he said.

Erskine-Smith added, “that has to be the minimum commitment we’re making to communities. There’s got to be emergency rooms that are open, including here in Minden.”

Hsu is MPP in Kingston and the Islands. He served as MP for the federal riding from 2011 to 2015. He said he was drawn back into politics by his daughter.

“She and her friends just want somebody to get something done. They see the problems with housing, cost of living, the health care system, the climate crisis. The economy isn’t working, mental health, addictions and homelessness are all huge problems… the only way I could see to make a real difference was to help set the direction of the party by being leader,” Hsu said.

He said he would invest money to ensure health care workers are provided, “decent working conditions, respect, and fair pay,” and vowed to reopen the Minden ER.

Naqvi is the MP for Ottawa Centre and previously served three terms as MPP in the similarly named provincial riding from 2007 to 2018. He was Ontario’s attorney general from 2016 until 2018.

He said he would invest heavily in Ontario’s education system after “years of neglect” under the Ford government. He wants to make post-secondary education free for students whose family earns less than $90,000 per year. Naqvi is also proposing a universal mental health care system.

Naqvi said he would encourage more immigration to Ontario to increase the provincial tax base.

After also promising to reopen the Minden ER, the MP for Ottawa Centre also committed to, “making sure that no other emergency room ever closes in our province again.” Naqvi said he would fast-track licenses for internationally-trained physicians and nurses.

Shamji has been to Minden three times in six months. He participated in events calling for the reopening of the Minden hospital. Based in Toronto, Shamji has been an ER doctor for more than 10 years.

“I’ve written a lot of prescriptions in my lifetime, but I’ve never been able to write a prescription for housing, or groceries, or clean air. That’s the reason I’m running… to go where the help is needed, be the change our province needs, and help people through these tough times,” Shamji said.

He said no emergency department would close under his watch and criticized Ford for the Greenbelt debacle. “Not only should we be protecting and preserving the Greenbelt, but we should also be expanding it,” Shamji said.

The fifth nominee, Mississauga mayor Bonnie Crombie, didn’t attend, though she was represented by Don Valley West MPP Stephanie Bowman – the vice chair of her campaign.

Bowman said she feels Crombie has the kind of experience, energy, character, and personality that appeals to voters, and represents the Liberal’s best chance of regaining power at Queen’s Park.

Members will decide the party’s next leader through a ranked ballot vote Nov. 25 and 26, with the winner announced Dec. 2. Only those with a party membership purchased before Sept. 11 will be eligible to vote. For more information, visit leadership.