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Bonnie Crombie stands on stage with supporters at a rally in Mississauga, Ont., on June 14, 2023.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Bonnie Crombie says she has raised more than $1-million in her bid to lead the Ontario Liberals – the most of any candidate in the party’s history – and is defending donations from developers that have become a frequent line of attack from her opponents.

In a fundraising e-mail sent out Monday, Ms. Crombie fired back at her two main competitors, Nate Erskine-Smith and Yasir Naqvi, who have attempted to paint her as too friendly with big developers for accepting contributions from large donors in the real estate and development industries.

In an appeal to her supporters, she lays out a lengthy defence of the donations, portraying herself as the only contestant who can compete with Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives’ fundraising machine and win.

Ms. Crombie – who will take unpaid leave this month from her role as Mississauga mayor – said the third-place Liberal Party needs to regain its financial prowess to be competitive in the 2026 election. She said she may even surpass Mr. Ford’s fundraising total from his 2018 leadership bid, which topped $1.2-million, adding that her campaign has raised nearly double the donations of the other three contenders combined.

In the e-mail, Ms. Crombie said those who have donated to her campaign shouldn’t be criticized for their professions.

“As Leader of the Ontario Liberal Party, I will make certain that our fundraising effort matches Doug Ford’s Conservatives and I will eliminate the huge financial advantage they currently enjoy. I commit to making us competitive again,” she said.

“My success with fundraising has not gone unnoticed by two of the other candidates running to lead our party. Our campaign is being criticized for accepting donations from individuals who want to beat Doug Ford. Some of my donors are being attacked because of what they do for a living. I reject that criticism and I reject the entire premise of the attacks.”

Ms. Crombie said her bid has followed “all campaign-finance rules. Every single time.” All leadership donations are capped at a maximum of $3,350 and are disclosed publicly, and the names of donors who contributed more than $200 to her campaign are found on the Elections Ontario website. (Her own $1-million figure exceeds the total on that website because it includes more up-to-date figures and smaller donations.) Candidates must also give 25 per cent of their donations to the party, along with a $100,000 entry fee.

“And let me be perfectly clear – if anyone is donating to the Ontario Liberal Party in hopes of another Doug Ford cash-for-access government, they are in for a rude awakening,” she said.

Ms. Crombie added that it “unacceptable” that the PCs are consistently raising 10 times more than the Liberals. The Liberal Party has raised about $600,000 since the beginning of the year, while the PCs took in more than $6-million. Ms. Crombie, however, has personally raised about the same amount of money that the PCs received last quarter.

According to Elections Ontario records, Ms. Crombie received more than $30,000 collectively from 10 people whose names match those of executives at Vaughan-based development company HBNG Holborn Group. Each gave the maximum $3,350 in late June to mid-July.

And shortly after the donations, she voted on a development application from the company before Mississauga council. Doing so did not break any rules, but her opponents say she should have recused herself.

Several of the donors had also previously given large amounts to Progressive Conservative candidates, or to Mr. Ford’s 2018 leadership campaign.

Throughout the campaign, Mr. Naqvi and Mr. Erskine-Smith have portrayed these connections as a political liability for the party, which is trying to present an ethical alternative to the PCs in the fallout from Mr. Ford’s failed plan to develop on part of the protected Greenbelt that arcs around the Greater Toronto Area.

In a statement Monday, Mr. Erskine-Smith said successful fundraising is a necessary part of politics, but “there should never even be a perception of improper influence, especially as we look to take on Doug Ford’s corruption.”

“It isn’t an attack to ask Mayor Crombie to explain the $30,000 in co-ordinated donations from 10 execs at one development corporation that had business before her city council, and why she failed to recuse herself,” he said.

In his own statement Monday, Mr. Naqvi said that the next election “will be fought on trust and ethics. Money cannot buy either.”

“I plan to earn the trust of Ontarians with integrity, compassion, and practical, Liberal ideas that will make their lives easier to live,” he said.

Last week, Ms. Crombie’s campaign got a boost when Toronto MPP Adil Shamji endorsed her and dropped out of the race. That leaves four candidates vying for leadership: Ms. Crombie; Mr. Naqvi, an Ottawa MP and former provincial attorney-general; Mr. Erskine-Smith, a Toronto Liberal MP; and Liberal MPP Ted Hsu, who represents Kingston and the Islands.

Party members across the province will vote on a new leader starting in late November, with a winner to be announced in December.

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