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Ontario Liberal leadership hopefuls Nate Erskine-Smith (left) and Yasir Naqvi are joining forces to try to take down Bonnie Crombie.Handout

Ontario Liberal leadership hopefuls Nate Erskine-Smith and Yasir Naqvi are teaming up by asking their supporters to rank one another as second choice on the ranked ballot, a move that could stop front-runner Bonnie Crombie from winning the race.

The strategic “agreement” between Mr. Erskine-Smith and Mr. Naqvi – both currently federal Liberal MPs – was announced two weeks before more than 100,000 Ontario Liberal Party members vote on who will lead them in the next provincial election.

By asking their supporters to rank each other as the number-two choice, the candidates are hoping that one of them has enough support to thwart Ms. Crombie if she doesn’t win on the first ballot. They also say they are co-ordinating their election weekend get-out-the-vote efforts.

In a news conference outside Queen’s Park on Thursday, Mr. Erskine-Smith and Mr. Naqvi said they have realized throughout the course of the race that they have a lot in common and share the same vision for the Ontario Liberal Party on issues such as revitalizing the grassroots and restoring ethics in government.

They said they believe they both have a shot – along with Ms. Crombie – of winning the leadership, and want their supporters to know who would be their second choice on the ranked ballot.

Explainer: Who’s running for leader of the Ontario Liberal Party? A list of candidates so far

Calling themselves “principled, pragmatic and Liberal” leaders, the two candidates said they are best positioned to beat Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives in the 2026 race.

“None of this is personal,” Mr. Erskine-Smith told reporters. “This isn’t about stopping one person; this is about building the kind of party that is going to deliver for Ontarians in the right way and also set the Liberal Party up for success.”

Mr. Naqvi said the next leader has to stand in “stark contrast” to Mr. Ford, suggesting Ms. Crombie shares too many of the Progressive Conservative Leader’s attributes.

“We have to be really careful that we give Ontarians a clear alternative to the corrupt and failing government of Doug Ford, that our leader should not be sharing the political instincts, political style or political friends,” he told reporters.

The move to join forces could have major ramifications in the race, especially as it’s not clear that any candidate is poised to win on the first ballot, said Dan Moulton, a former senior adviser to Liberal premiers and a partner at Crestview Strategy in Toronto.

“I think it’s a game changer,” said Mr. Moulton. “Should [Bonnie Crombie] not secure the first ballot, I think Nate and Yasir are very well positioned to perform well on successive ballots now.”

Ms. Crombie, who is on a leave of absence from her role as Mississauga mayor, is widely viewed as the front-runner in the contest, having raised more than $1-million – the most of any candidate in the party’s history. A fourth candidate, Liberal MPP Ted Hsu, is also vying for the job.

On social media, Mr. Hsu said he was invited by Mr. Erskine-Smith and Mr. Yaqvi to explore their arrangement but declined because the party worked hard to give all members free votes and move beyond making “deals.”

Mr. Erskine-Smith and Mr. Naqvi have been highly critical of Ms. Crombie, attempting to paint her as too friendly with big developers by accepting contributions from large donors in the real estate industry. Early in the campaign, Ms. Crombie also mused about opening up parts of the environmentally protected Greenbelt to development, but has since said she would protect it.

Ms. Crombie has defended her fundraising prowess, and said she has followed all the rules, and that the party needs a war chest to take on Mr. Ford in the next election.

In a statement issued on Thursday, Ms. Crombie said the leadership race is about who can hit the ground running immediately to “keep grinding down Doug Ford and his government” to beat them in 2026.

“I want Ontario Liberals to know I’m ready to do that and my strategy is pretty clear – I want to be their first choice on the ballot,” she said, adding that the agreement between her two competitors is “vague and unclear.”

“I am confident that most Liberals will decide for themselves who their first choice is and who their second choice is. Most Liberals do not want to be told how to vote.”

Ontario Liberals will cast their ballots on the weekend of Nov. 25 and 26 – with a small number voting earlier by mail. The winner will be announced at an event in Toronto on Dec. 2.

The party has changed its voting system for this year’s contest, moving from delegated conventions to a one-member-one-vote system, meaning members cast a ballot ranking their first to last choice candidates, with diverse regional support being crucial.

The Ontario Liberal Party held government for 15 years until 2018, when it won only seven seats in the legislature, and failed to make significant gains in the 2022 campaign. But since then, the Liberals have won two by-elections, and now have nine seats – although still not enough for official party status.

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