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Adil Shamji speaks at a ceremony, at Queen's Park, in Toronto, on Friday, Sept. 30, 2022.Alex Lupul/The Canadian Press

Ontario Liberal leadership candidate Adil Shamji is dropping out of his party’s race and endorsing Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie, the contest’s perceived front-runner.

Dr. Shamji, an emergency room physician who first won his seat as the MPP for Toronto’s Don Valley East riding last year, has been a vocal member of the party’s small nine-member caucus, particularly on health care issues.

The Crombie campaign issued a statement on Thursday evening saying Dr. Shamji would be endorsing her. In the statement, Ms. Crombie described Dr. Shamji as a “brilliant and dedicated MPP” who will help her, if she wins the leadership, to defeat Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives.

“Adil and I agree that Doug Ford’s government has got to go in 2026,” she said. “And we need every Liberal pulling in the same direction to make that happen. Today is clear evidence that we as Ontario Liberals are going to be a united force that will bring down this self-serving scandal-plagued Doug Ford government as soon as we can.”

In a separate statement, Dr. Shamji acknowledged that he could not win the race, citing the passing of deadlines for signing up new party members, which candidates must do to build support ahead of the leadership vote. He said he would continue fighting for health care, housing, education and the environment as part of Ms. Crombie’s team.

“Bonnie has a level of experience and strength that inspires confidence in Ontarians,” Dr. Shamji said.

Dr. Shamji announced his decision just days before the Liberals’ third leadership debate, which is set for Sunday in Stratford, Ont. Party members across the province will vote on a new leader starting in late November, with a winner to be announced in December.

Ms. Crombie still faces three opponents: Yasir Naqvi, a Liberal MP for Ottawa and former Ontario attorney-general; Toronto Liberal MP Nate Erskine-Smith; and Liberal MPP Ted Hsu, who represents Kingston and the Islands.

The Ontario Liberal Party has struggled to reinvigorate itself since the 2018 provincial election, when it suffered a crushing defeat under Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne. That election brought Mr. Ford to power and reduced the Liberals to just seven seats, putting them below the threshold for official party status.

The last leader of the Ontario Liberals, Steven Del Duca, quit after the party failed to recover official party status in the June, 2022 general election.

The Liberals have since been buoyed by two recent by-election wins.

The new leader would be expected to face off against Mr. Ford and Official Opposition NDP Leader Marit Stiles in the next election, set for 2026.

Ms. Crombie’s campaign has raised more than $900,000 – more than all her rivals combined – according to Elections Ontario figures, although these numbers do not include donations under $200. Her campaign has also claimed to have signed up the largest number of new members.

Dr. Shamji’s campaign said earlier this month that it had raised more than $110,000, a total that includes donations under $200.

The pair appeared friendly on stage at a leadership debate held last week at Toronto Metropolitan University. Dr. Shamji, unlike Mr. Naqvi and Mr. Erskine-Smith, shied away from asking pointed questions or appearing to attack Ms. Crombie. Instead, he focused on his own policy ideas and criticisms of Mr. Ford.

Recent polls have shown the Liberals leading or neck-and-neck with the Ontario NDP in popular support, but still trailing Mr. Ford’s PCs.

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