Bonnie Crombie, the Mississauga mayor who won the leadership of Ontario’s third-place Liberals over the weekend, says she has told party brass they need to raise $1-million before the end of the year and focus on rural and Northern ridings as they rebuild.
In an interview on Sunday after a meeting with the party executive and riding association presidents, Ms. Crombie told The Globe and Mail that she challenged all riding associations to hold holiday fundraisers aimed at bringing in some of the money the Liberals will need to rebuild.
She said the fundraising jumpstart is needed to get the party – which lacks official status in the legislature with only nine seats – ready to take on Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford and NDP Official Opposition Leader Marit Stiles in the next election, currently set for June, 2026. For her leadership campaign this year, Ms. Crombie says she raised $1.3-million, far more than any of her competitors.
The new Liberal Leader said her focus will be to reach out to rural and Northern areas, where the party needs to recover in order to compete, instead of relying on urban voters. She also says she can attract not only disaffected Conservatives, but those who have voted NDP – even though her main opponents in the leadership race tried to paint her as too right-wing, and too similar to Mr. Ford, to lead the Liberals.
“I’ve seen polling and I do quite well with Red Tories and NDP voters. I’ve seen it. Everyone comes back, because we’re running a very big-tent campaign and we’re a centrist party,” said Ms. Crombie, who is due to attend her small party’s caucus meeting for the first time on Tuesday. “We are going to be fierce opponents.”
Ms. Crombie won the Liberal leadership in the third ballot on Saturday, taking 53.4 per cent of the points under the party’s new ranked-ballot system, which weighted all 124 of Ontario’s ridings equally. Toronto Liberal MP Nate Erskine-Smith finished second with 46.6 per cent support. Ottawa Liberal MP and former Ontario cabinet minster Yasir Naqvi, and Kingston and the Islands Liberal MPP Ted Hsu, were eliminated on the first and second ballots.
The party, which has struggled since losing power to Mr. Ford’s PCs in 2018, has been buoyed by two recent by-election wins and the flood of volunteers, fundraising and attention that came with the leadership race. But many say the party is still grievously wounded by its drubbings in the last two provincial elections – defeats that left it in the political wilderness after 15 years in government.
Ms. Crombie, three times elected mayor of Mississauga, told the leadership convention on Saturday that her early upbringing taught her “resilience.” Her mother was born in Poland, and her mother’s family came to Ontario after the Second World War. Her biological father struggled with addiction and mental illness, and left when she was three. Before her mother remarried when she was nine, Ms. Crombie lived in a rooming house in Toronto’s High Park area with her mother and grandparents.
Drawn to Liberal politics by Pierre Trudeau’s Just Society and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, she has an MBA, worked in business, served a term as Liberal MP for Mississauga-Streetsville and first won her job as mayor in 2014, thanks to an endorsement from her long-time predecessor, Hazel McCallion. (The late mayor was also a booster of Mr. Ford.)
Ms. Crombie does not yet have seat in the Ontario legislature. While she said Saturday she would consider running in the seat vacated by former PC cabinet minister Monte McNaughton in Lambton-Kent-Middlesex, she told The Globe on Sunday this was off the table, as the Liberals had already identified a local candidate. She said if a seat came up in Mississauga, she could run there.
Ms. Crombie said she has to get her Mississauga budget, and the Peel Region budget, passed before leaving her post as mayor, but expects to do so in January. She said the party’s new fundraising push will be needed partly to come up with money her salary, since she will not be on the legislature’s payroll.
In an interview, former Ontario Liberal finance minister Greg Sorbara, who supported Mr. Hsu in the leadership fight, predicted that the Liberals under Ms. Crombie would reunite and win in 2026.
Mr. Sorbara batted away concerns over comments Ms. Crombie made early in the race, but had to retract or clarify, such as saying she was open to land swaps in the protected Greenbelt with proper consultation and that she thought the party needed to appeal to the “centre-right” and had veered too far to the left.
“I have a good feeling. We are coming out of a very dark period for the party with a leader who is really, really competent,” Mr. Sorbara said. “I mean, I supported Ted. But Bonnie Crombie outcampaigned all of them by a country mile. And she has the energy to continue the battle.”
Kim Wright, a lobbyist and NDP strategist, said the notion that the Liberals now have momentum is overblown, noting that only 23 per cent of the more than the party’s 100,000 members actually showed up to vote. Now, she says, the Liberals will have to try to appeal to the NDP’s progressive voters with a candidate whose record turned off some left-leaning members of their own party.
“Being a known quantity is always a good thing. When you have a record, and Bonnie Crombie has a record, of saying things like, the Liberal government spent too much on health care and social services, that should be concerning to progressives out there,” Ms. Wright said.
With a report from Laura Stone