Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie says the Ontario Liberals have veered too far left and that if she becomes leader, she would reconnect the third-place party with rural areas and centre-right voters in order to take on the Progressive Conservatives.
The popular mayor, who won her third election in Mississauga last fall with nearly 80 per cent of the vote, all-but launched her bid for the Liberal leadership on Tuesday with a wave of media interviews. She says she is exploring a run, and unveiled a list of 40 party supporters urging her to jump in. Her website, bonnieforleader.ca, had appeared prematurely over the weekend.
Just last week, Ms. Crombie was at Queen’s Park as Premier Doug Ford’s PC government unveiled legislation that would achieve her long-time goal of dissolving the Peel regional government and turning Mississauga into a standalone city. She is seen by some Liberals as a candidate who could break through in the suburban 905 belt around Toronto, a decisive electoral battleground.
Speaking to The Globe and Mail on Tuesday, Ms. Crombie said the party, both under Steven Del Duca in the 2022 campaign and in its electoral collapse in 2018 under then-premier Kathleen Wynne, had moved too far to the left.
Her more centrist approach, she said, is already attracting more moderate Liberals and even some quiet support from conservatives. She said Tory lawyer and fundraiser Ralph Lean has offered to raise money for her. Mr. Lean in an interview Tuesday said he had merely recently sent a few interested donors her way, as he has known her for years and considers her a “formidable candidate,” but would not be participating in her campaign in any formal way.
“I am such a centrist, even right-of-centre, with a strong business background. They can see how I run the city and manage the city,” Ms. Crombie said in a downtown Toronto coffee shop not far from the legislature.
While her website targets Mr. Ford’s government for failing to spend enough on health care and other services, Ms. Crombie said that the Liberals had let spending rise too much when in power. She said she would chart a “balanced” course, as she says she has in Mississauga. She also said her leadership campaign would seek to listen to voters outside the big cities, where she said the party has focused too much of its efforts.
Ms. Crombie said she remains opposed to Mr. Ford’s plan to build the proposed Highway 413, which would arc through protected farmland around Toronto from its west – a key issue in the 2022 campaign. She also said she opposes the Premier’s move to carve out parts of the protected Greenbelt lands for housing.
However, she would not commit to undoing Mr. Ford’s controversial “strong mayor” legislation or his unilateral 2018 reduction of the number of councillors at Toronto City Hall.
If she decides to run for Liberal leader, Ms. Crombie said, she would stay on as mayor of Mississauga and only resign if she won the race. Her leadership campaign, she said, would take place on evenings and weekends, but would see her scale back some of her community events.
She has until September to sign on to the race, which requires candidates to raise $100,000.
Ontario’s Liberals will vote using ranked ballots in November and learn who their new leader is Dec. 2. The next provincial general election is set for June, 2026, giving whoever takes the reins two-and-a-half years to rebuild the party.
Among the Liberals named on Ms. Crombie’s “exploratory committee” are former Liberal cabinet ministers Brad Duguid and Dwight Duncan, and Tim Murphy – the chief executive officer of law firm McMillan LLP and co-chair of Ms. Wynne’s 2018 campaign.
Ms. Crombie said pollster and strategist Don Guy, who helped former Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty win three elections, is also offering advice and is willing to co-chair her campaign.
The Mississauga mayor’s rivals for the Liberal leadership include Toronto Liberal MP Nate Erskine-Smith and former Ontario attorney-general Yasir Naqvi. Only Mr. Erskine-Smith and Ted Hsu, a former MP and the current MPP for Kingston and the Islands, have so far formally signed up to run.
Others seriously considering a bid include Stephanie Bowman, a former bank executive and the MPP for Don Valley West, and Adil Shamji, a former emergency-room doctor and MPP for Don Valley East.