Bonnie Crombie Elected as New Ontario Liberal Leader

Ontario Liberal Party members have chosen Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie as their new leader. A former Liberal Member of Parliament and three-term Mayor of Canada’s seventh largest city, Crombie benefited from strong name recognition, and the perception she is best positioned to take on Doug Ford in the 2026 provincial election.

After two consecutive election losses where the Ontario Liberals failed to win enough seats for official party status, party members are optimistic that Crombie’s leadership will bring electoral success in the all-important Toronto suburbs, fundraising, and offer a clean break with their McGuinty-Wynne past, as well as distance from the Trudeau government in Ottawa.

Polls throughout the campaign showed Crombie as potentially the strongest challenger to Premier Ford, with Abacus Data’s David Coletto noting “The Tories are worried about Crombie and they should be,” albeit with the same poling showing the Tories would still prevail in an election held today.

A Hard-Fought Victory

The leadership contest, the first for the Ontario Liberal Party using a ranked-ballot system, concluded on the third ballot with Crombie taking 53.4 percent of the voting system points, ahead of Beaches East-York MP Nate Erskine-Smith who received 46.6 percent.

Two other rivals, MPP Ted Hsu and former Ontario Attorney General and current Federal MP Yasir Naqvi were eliminated in the first and second rounds of the vote, respectively. Turnout was lower than expected, likely a consequence of the new system, with voting taking place a week before the results were to be counted and announced.

Crombie’s victory by 6.8 percent over second-place Erskine-Smith represented a much closer race than expected – and unlike the Crombie campaign’s prediction of a first or second ballot win.

Party Unity

The close result between Crombie and left-of-centre Erskine-Smith was highlighted by some observers as revealing a potential split in the party. This schism also appeared in the lead-up to the vote when Erskine-Smith and Naqvi teamed-up and unsuccessfully encouraged their supporters to align against Crombie. Despite this many Liberals believe that opposition to Ford and progressive pledges will bring the party together quickly.

Crombie’s lack of a seat at Queen’s Park is seen as both a potential benefit and obstacle. Not sitting in the legislature frees Crombie’s time to focus on party-building over attending debates. On the other hand, being in the legislature offers the leader a significant amount of media exposure, important to building recognition among voters.

Former PC Minister Kaleed Rasheed’s resignation from caucus could provide a path to the Legislature for Crombie, were he to quit politics. But barring that, or another Mississauga seat becoming vacant, expect Crombie to opt for leading things from outside Queen’s Park for now.

The PCs and NDP React

Immediately after her selection, Crombie’s political rivals began trying to establish a narrative that she is out of touch with the concerns of Ontarians.

The PC Party launched a contrast campaign on social media stating that Crombie and the Ontario Liberal Party supports higher taxes, oppose highway projects, and don’t support building new homes. The campaign was accompanied with the tagline “they’ll cost you”, a phrase which will likely be repeated over the coming months.

The NDP responded to Crombie’s victory by launching a website claiming that she is a “Doug Ford-lite” and noting her purported ties to the development industry.

Crombie Outlines Her Vision

In Crombie’s 17-minute victory speech, the freshly minted leader ignored the NDP and Green Party, a purposeful approach for a leader who will attempt to position herself as the primary opposition to Premier Doug Ford and the PC Party.

The key theme of Crombie’s speech was that Doug Ford’s government was not making decisions in the best interest of Ontarians, but rather for connected insiders and PC Party donors – a clear reference to the recent Greenbelt controversy.

Crombie also focused criticism on what she calls the Ford PCs “out of touch policies” she believes are making life harder for the average Ontarian, including underspending on healthcare, and not enabling the construction of enough homes that average Ontarians can afford.

Crombie committed to travelling across Ontario to listen to voters about issues that matter to them and reflect what she hears in policy for the 2026 campaign. Crombie also committed to holding a Liberal Party policy convention in 2024, to gather ideas from the party’s grassroots. All this allows Crombie to keep her options open on policy heading into the next election, with major planks added as opportunities present themselves.

The Road to 2026 and the Work Ahead

Over the last hundred years, the Ontario Progressive Conservatives thrived when the opposition was divided between the Liberals and NDP with no clear alternatives for opponents to rally around. That situation is compounded now by the addition of two Green party MPPs at Queen’s Park. Bonnie Crombie’s task will be to define the choice in the next election between PC or Liberal, Ford or Crombie.

An advantage Crombie brings is her tenure as Mayor of one of Canada’s largest cities and her leadership position as Chair of the Ontario Big City Mayors caucus. Given the degree to which provincial/municipal relations has been a mainstay of politics in the past several years, her relationship with the municipal sector may be a strength for the Liberals.

At the same time, the government and other opposition parties will attempt to wrong-foot the new Liberal leader and undercut momentum her party may generate. Dissatisfaction with the federal Liberals  will make her task harder, as will the lack of public funding for the “unofficial” Liberal Party.

Ultimately, Crombie will need to motivate thousands of volunteers across a huge and diverse province toward a single goal of electoral success, many of whom did not support her in the leadership. She has until Spring 2026 to do that work.

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