Mississauga Mayor and former MP Bonnie Crombie was elected as the new leader of the Ontario Liberal Party on Saturday, edging out federal Liberal MPs Nate Erskine-Smith (Beaches-East York) and Yasir Naqvi (Ottawa Centre) and current MPP Ted Hsu. Freshman MPP Adil Shamji had also been a leadership candidate, but dropped out of the race as a result of fundraising challenges. He would go on to endorse Crombie.
Despite suggestions Crombie might have enough votes to win on the first ballot, it took until the third ballot for the OLP to confirm a new leader. Hsu secured the fewest points in the first round of voting and fell off the ballot for the second round. Naqvi then dropped off the ballot for the third round, leaving Crombie and Erskine-Smith as the final contenders. Naqvi and Erskine-Smith had previously urged their respective supporters to rank each other second in an attempt to prevent a Crombie win. While the pact may have worked, it wasn’t enough to stop the three-term, big-city Mayor. Erskine-Smith received more than 80 percent of Naqvi supporters’ second votes, but Crombie received just enough to push her over the edge, winning with 6,911 points compared to Erskine-Smith’s 6,029.
Crombie’s campaign garnered strong support despite some early challenges, including a controversial comment suggesting support for more Greenbelt land swaps in a Globe and Mail interview – a position that was later corrected. Early in her campaign, she had implied to TVO that she would govern from the right of centre, a statement she was able to later walk back. The more progressive wing of the party, and some candidates, had argued her fundraising numbers revealed an overlap with the Ford Conservatives. The Trillium had reported that Crombie’s campaign received donations from real estate developers, but those comparisons clearly didn’t hamper her campaign’s outcome.
The Tories were quick to criticize the new Liberal leader, portraying her as an elitist who will increase taxes. The NDP sought to frame Crombie as no different than Doug Ford, even publishing a website highlighting her connections to developers, as well as her comments concerning the Greenbelt and health care spending
In her first appearance before the media as the leader of the OLP, Crombie stated that the reaction by Tories and the NDP show that her opponents were nervous about a resurgent Ontario Liberal Party, and that “they should be concerned”. Crombie would later go on to speak before the Ontario Liberal Party’s provincial council where outlined her short term goals as leader of the party, which include raising over $1 million in donations before New Year’s Eve and holding a policy convention in early 2024.
Crombie has stated that she intends to remain the Mayor of Mississauga into the New Year to continue working on the city’s budget. She has said that she is undecided on whether she will seek a seat in the legislature, or if she will focus on traveling the province to introduce herself to voters and drum up support for the party.
The leadership race saw candidates sign up a record number of members, with more than 100,000 people eligible to vote for the new leader — up from 44,000 and 38,000 in the two previous leadership contests — yet less than 25 percent of those eligible to vote did so.