Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca announced the latest withdrawal of a Liberal candidate and blamed Andrea Horwath’s NDP for “despicable” attacks on the candidate's integrity, which he framed as sexist.
Audrey Festeryga, who was the Liberal candidate it Chatham—Kent—Leamington, withdrew her candidacy Thursday.
“Audrey has chosen to do this after days … of despicable personal attacks levied against her by the Ontario NDP,” Del Duca said at a press conference outside of Riverdale Park.
He said the New Democrats have “fundamentally lost their way” by attacking Festryga “in the most despicable way imaginable.”
The NDP first raised the issue of Festryga's candidacy, alleging a number of individuals had come forward saying their signatures were copied from a previous Liberal candidate's nomination form.
Festeryga was first nominated to the riding shortly before the cutoff for new candidates on May 12, after the initial Liberal candidate, Alec Mazurek pulled out at the last minute.
On Monday, Elections Ontario officially launched a probe into the issue and said it would not comment until the investigation is completed.
But on Thursday, Del Duca framed the issue as a sexist push by the NDP to oust Festryga as a candidate, pointing toward press conferences held by outgoing NDP MPP and former ethics critic Taras Natyshak calling on the Liberals to drop Festryga. He added that the NDP's criticism of London North Centre candidate Kate Graham for releasing internal polling is also part of this "disturbing pattern."
In Del Duca's words: "A former senior male member of her caucus, day after day, in Chatham—Kent—Leamington attacking a strong female Liberal candidate.”
“If you have conversations the way that I have with women across this province … what drives them away in droves is exactly this notion that Andrea Horwath and the NDP can send out a bully, to go out there in the most despicable way to attack someone's integrity,” Del Duca added.
The Liberal leader has declined to comment on the ongoing Elections Ontario investigation and tried to separate the issue of the NDP criticisms and the investigation.
“Any complaint about anything in the election process should be submitted to Elections Ontario," he said. "What I cannot stomach, what I will always call out is, again, the despicable behaviour of … Andrea Horwath’s Ontario NDP attacking the personal integrity of someone like Audrey.”
The NDP was also behind the ousting of Mazurek as a candidate.
In a press release on May 12, the party revealed screenshots of old social media posts where he uses a homophobic slur on multiple occasions.
Following the release, Mazurek issued an apology on Facebook, saying the posts were made when he was 15. Mazurek’s current Facebook page has been scrubbed of any posts.
The Liberals dropped Mazurek as a candidate the same day with Del Duca saying, “that is not what we stand for.”
The party then nominated Festeryga as a candidate for the riding. Following her nomination, the NDP called on Elections Ontario to look into Festeryga’s nomination signatures.
Elections Ontario requires candidates to gather 25 signatures in support of their nomination from constituents. The NDP alleged the Liberals copied signatures from Mazurek’s nomination papers for Festeryga's, which is against Elections Ontario rules.
Mazurek was the second Ontario Liberal candidate to be dropped over remarks believed to be offensive to the LGBTQ2S+ community and the third overall.
A day before, the Liberals dropped Barry Stanley, the party’s former candidate for the riding of Parry Sound—Muskoka over bizarre homosexuality.
In the self-published book, Stanley alleged that homosexuality could be caused by “rebreathing occurring shortly after birth.”
The third candidate dropped from running under the Liberal banner was 18-year-old Aidan Kallioinen.
Kallioinen was running for the riding of Sault Ste. Marie. He told the CBC that the party informed him he could not as a Liberal after they found offensive comments he made in an online gaming forum.