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'There's something about Bonnie': Crombie shakes up Grit leaders race

Some Liberals are excited about the prospect of a classic centrist who can bring the fight to Doug Ford
Bonnie Crombie is seen in a screenshot of her Liberal leadership exploratory campaign website.

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.

Brad Duguid doesn't believe in saviours.

That's not what the Ontario Liberals need, the former Ontario cabinet minister told The Trillium, they just need someone they can believe in — and that someone is Bonnie Crombie.

"I think Bonnie Crombie provides our party with a fresh face in Ontario politics, but she also comes with significant government governing experience and success — and that's a unique combination, and something I think the Ontario Liberal Party, if she decides to jump into the race, will be very fortunate to have," Duguid said.

Crombie, the Mississauga mayor and a former Liberal MP, was the talk of Ontario Liberaland Tuesday after a website announcing Crombie's leadership campaign went live over Victoria Day weekend before it was taken down. On Tuesday morning, it was back up announcing not that she's running for leader — yet — but that she's put together a team of 40 Liberals who make up an exploratory committee for her run.

The 40 Liberals are essentially her ambassadors, said one of them, former Liberal candidate and leadership contestant, and current Mississauga councillor, Alvin Tedjo. They're now working their networks on her behalf, he said.

Of the Liberals The Trillium spoke with, both on Crombie's committee and those supporting other candidates, there's a consensus that her electoral strength in Greater Toronto Area is a strong asset and that she brings strong political skills to the race. 

Her supporters all spoke of her as a threat to Ford, finding various ways to say they believe she'll "bring the fight" to him, and will "fight for the people" she represents. Like Duguid, they were generous in their praise. 

Jill Promoli, who was a high-profile rookie Liberal candidate in 2022, put it this way: when people she speaks with heard Crombie might be running, "the tone shifts."

"You can feel it," Promoli said. "You can hear people go like, 'Oh, oh, that's actually very exciting.'"

"That's not to say that we don't have fantastic people who are also in this race we do," Promoli added. "But there's something about Bonnie."

That is not the reaction the party's last leader, Steven Del Duca, elicited from people, several other Liberals noted.

Another theme among Liberals was that Crombie represents a centrist, or "classic" version of the Liberal brand that is not as far left as it has been recently.

Crombie herself said as much — and more — in an interview with TVO Today.

“I think the Liberal party moved much too far to the left. I think traditionally our roots are in the centre. I believe we govern from right of centre,” said Crombie. “I would hope to attract Red Tories and Blue Liberals back to the party and let the opposition deal with the issues that are too far to the left.”

What is too high-spending for her Liberal brand? Dental care and child care, she told TVO.

Crombie has old-school Liberals among her advisers, sources said, pointing to Dalton-McGuinty era politicos Don Guy, David Gene and Lindsay Maskell, as well as Marcel Wieder, who helped create the Working Families Coalition, a union-backed third-party advertiser known for flooding airwaves with anti-Conservative election ads in elections past. 

Duguid, the former cabinet minister, counts himself among the old-school, and among the "traditional" Liberals at the centre of the political spectrum. 

He said he was happy to see that other veterans like him — such as his former cabinet colleague Dwight Duncan — on Crombie's exploratory committee alongside the newer generation of Liberal candidates from the 2022 election, mixing the Liberals' "rich history" with a "bright, hopeful" future.

Among that new class is Elizabeth Mendes, the 2022 Ontario Liberal Candidate for Mississauga—Lakeshore. She echoed the older generation's view that Crombie could bring the party back to the centre from its "left swing" of recent years. And with that, the party will be able to tackle the issue that matters most to Ontarians — affordability — which is something Crombie understands, she said.

Tedjo is also a member of that cohort.

"She really cares," he said. "These things really mattered to her — the fiscal prudence that she likes to talk about, and our progressive values. These aren't just talking points for her. They're real life and I respect them." 

While Crombie made headlines over the long weekend, another candidate quietly registered in the leadership race with Elections Ontario.

But Ted Hsu, the MPP for Kingston and the Islands, wasn't available for interviews, his spokesperson said. Instead, he'll issue a release on Thursday "about his intentions with leadership" with an event to follow in his riding on Sunday.

That makes him the second registered candidate after Nate Erskine Smith, the MP for Beaches—East York, who's been travelling the province to drum up support for his bid. 

Ottawa Centre MP and former Ontario Liberal cabinet minister Yasir Naqvi is also exploring a bid, as is Adil Shamji, Liberal MPP for Don Valley East. 

A few weeks ago, The Trillium heard from three unassociated Liberal sources that Stephanie Bowman would be inclined to back out of running if Crombie entered the race. On Tuesday, a source close to Bowman said the Don Valley West MPP is still exploring the idea of running for leader.

—With files from Charlie Pinkerton


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Jessica Smith Cross

About the Author: Jessica Smith Cross

Reporting for Metro newspapers in five Canadian cities, as well as for CTV, the Guelph Mercury and the Turtle Island News. She made the leap to political journalism in 2016...
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