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Bonnie Crombie on the steps of the Ontario Legislature, in Toronto on May 18.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie is leaving the door open to swapping out portions of protected Greenbelt land as long as there are what she considers proper consultations, a position that puts her at odds with her rivals as she officially joins the Ontario Liberal leadership race.

The three-term mayor, who launched her campaign Wednesday at a rally in front of several hundred supporters in Mississauga, is marketing herself as an experienced manager who can reinvigorate the third-place party and is ready to face off against Premier Doug Ford in the next provincial election in June, 2026.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail prior to her campaign launch, Ms. Crombie said there may be “justification” in developing certain parts of the Greenbelt, but Mr. Ford has failed to properly explain his plan.

She said transparency and accountability are missing at Queen’s Park, with the Ford government making decisions about the future of the province “at the stroke of a pen.”

Ms. Crombie said the government has failed to consult with residents on issues such as the redevelopment of Ontario Place, which includes plans for a new luxury spa, as well as Mr. Ford’s decision to break his repeated promises and allow development on 3,000 hectares of the protected 800,000-hectare Greenbelt, made up of farmland and countryside that arcs around Toronto. The Progressive Conservative government says it is doing so in order to build more houses, and is adding more land back into the Greenbelt elsewhere.

“There may be justification in opening up certain parts of the Greenbelt, but people don’t understand why the decision was made,” Ms. Crombie said in the interview.

“Certainly, municipalities weren’t consulted, First Nations weren’t consulted, and the decision was made, and friends of the Premier benefitted from those decisions, and I’m very uncomfortable with that.”

However, Ms. Crombie said there are discussions to be had with municipalities and other stakeholders about building on what is knows as serviced land within the Greenbelt, which she described as “Whitebelt” lands within the protected area that are already primed for development.

“I think the Greenbelt is sacred. However, if it can be proven that serviced land, Whitebelt land, was captured, that is a discussion with the local community on whether there is an opportunity to remove that, but perhaps swap it with other land,” she said.

“The consultation at the local level was never had. People didn’t understand why the decision was made. And certainly if there was Whitebelt land that shouldn’t have been captured, that’s a valid argument. But we were not told.”

After a request for more information, her campaign later provided The Globe with a clarification from Ms. Crombie, who said some serviced lands – which have access to water, sewer or electricity – which were initially envisioned for development but captured inside the Greenbelt may be available for land swaps after appropriate consultation with community members, stakeholders, council and with scientific and environmental evidence.

Her entry into the race means there are now four official candidates vying for leader: Ms. Crombie; Liberal MPs Nate Erskine-Smith and Yasir Naqvi, a former provincial cabinet minister; and MPP Ted Hsu. Adil Shamji, a first-term member of the provincial Parliament, is also considering a bid, while MPP Stephanie Bowman recently announced her decision not to run and introduced Ms. Crombie at the campaign launch Wednesday.

After launching an exploratory committee last month, Ms. Crombie said she made the decision to run for leader after speaking with residents from across the province who encouraged her to join the race. She said the party has become too urban, and under her leadership would focus again on rural, Northern and francophone areas.

“People have confidence in my leadership and my experience and believe I can make a change,” Ms. Crombie said. “I have a vision that will bring Ontario back to the centre and speak to their issues, which are largely affordability.” She plans to focus on other issues including health care, education and climate change.

Mr. Ford has been highly critical of Ms. Crombie, the perceived front-runner in the race, for vowing to stay on as mayor during the campaign.

She said she has no plans to quit her job as she campaigns across the province, but may take a leave of absence at some point toward the end of the race.

“If I don’t win the leadership, then I will perform my obligations as mayor to the great city of Mississauga,” she said.

She noted that Mr. Ford has not asked the same of her other competitors, who will maintain their political jobs while running: “Let me just say, he hasn’t singled out the others.”

Ms. Crombie was also forced to backtrack last month when she described herself as “right of centre,” alleging she misspoke in numerous interviews.

“I’m a strong centrist. My intent is to build a big tent where everyone is welcome,” she said. “I had meant, the party had gone too far to the left, we must come back towards the right to the centre, was what I should have said.”

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