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Liberal leadership contestants politely spar over soul of party

Too left? Too right? Or is the centre just alright?
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie (centre), Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown (left), and Steve Clark, Ontario's Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing attend a news conference at the Ontario legislature in Toronto on Thursday, May 18, 2023.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared on The Trillium, a new Village Media website devoted exclusively to covering provincial politics at Queen’s Park.

Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie made headlines on Tuesday when she announced an exploratory committee for the Ontario Liberal leadership race. But her comments on where the party's went wrong in the past — and where she'd like to take it as leader — have injected some controversy into the nascent campaign. 

"I think the Liberal Party moved much too far to the left. I think traditionally our roots are in the centre. And I’m firmly in the centre. I believe we govern from right of centre," she told TVO. "Should I move forward with this bid, I would hope to attract the red Tories back to the Liberal Party, the blue Liberals, et cetera. And let the opposition deal with those issues that are too left of centre." 

“I think some of the decisions were too costly for Ontarians ... the health care, the child care, the dental benefits: those are better delivered by other levels of government,” she said. 

Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine Smith leapt on those comments, issuing a statement proclaiming: "If I lead the Ontario Liberals, we won’t govern from the centre-right. I won’t suggest affordable childcare is too far left or block housing from being built."

"I don't believe that we ought to govern right of center. I'm not going to leave a progressive federal Liberal Party to protect what I would consider an unambitious status quo," he said in an interview with The Trillium

Erskine Smith and Liberal MPP Ted Hsu are, as of now, the only two official candidates in the race. Liberal MP and former Ontario attorney general Yasir Naqvi hasn't made his candidacy official yet, but weighed into the discussion. 

"The Liberal Party has always been a pragmatic party. We should not be focused on debates about left or right, but the people of Ontario. As I travel the province, I keep hearing that people are struggling — especially with the big things government should get right. They're struggling to find quality health care, their kids are struggling in school, and some are working two or three jobs and still struggling to pay the bills," Naqvi said. 

"Getting those basics down, helping people who need it, is not about being left or right. I'm focused on finding practical solutions that make people's lives easier to live."

Hsu and fellow Liberal MPP Adil Shamji gave similar statements largely eschewing political ideologies.  

"Our party is most successful when we worry less about ideology and more about ideas. Ideas that work for everyone," Hsu said in a statement to The Trillium

"The housing crisis that is affecting Ontarians is not an issue about left or right, it is about ensuring that Ontarians can afford to pay their rent or mortgage. The price of groceries is not about left or right but creating policy and supports so that Ontarians can afford to feed their families," he continued. "Creating a competitive and modern economy is not about left or right but rather positioning Ontario to be the place where the jobs of tomorrow are created."

"We don’t have to govern from right or left of centre to find the policy solutions for the problems we face today. Sensible policy is neither left nor right-wing," Shamji said in a statement to The Trillium

"There’s no reason to limit ourselves to one side of the political spectrum, especially when our party naturally sits in the practical yet thoughtful centre."


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Aidan Chamandy

About the Author: Aidan Chamandy

Aidan Chamandy specializes in energy and housing. He can usually be found looking for government documents on obscure websites and filing freedom-of-information requests. He hosts and produces podcasts. Reach him anytime at [email protected].
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