Bonnie Crombie clinches Ontario Liberal leadership by a narrow margin amidst lacklustre race and low voter turnout. Photo Credit: Chris Young/The Canadian Press
In a very lacklustre race for the Ontario Liberal leadership, this past weekend Bonnie Crombie – the consistent frontrunner throughout the leadership contest – finally prevailed over Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, Ted Hsu and Yasir Naqvi. Initially it was believed that this would be a slam-dunk for Crombie who was expected by many to win resoundingly on the first ballot in the ranked-ballot process. That is not how things turned out, however, and Crombie ultimately managed to barely eke out a win on the third ballot with support of 53.4 per cent of Liberal party members over the last man standing, Erskine-Smith.
This leadership contest had been kicked off following the June 2022 re-election of the Ford Conservative government with an even larger majority than they attained in 2018, which prompted former Liberal leader Steven Del Duca to resign. Perhaps this leadership race simply went on too long, as there seemed to be little interest among both the general public and Liberal party members. The fact that the turnout for the vote among Liberal party members was a dismal 22,827 was also a bad sign for the party. The Liberals claimed they had signed up over 103,000 members leading up to the 2023 leadership vote as compared to the two last leadership races in which the total number of members were 44,000 and 38,000 respectively in 2013 and 2022. Having less than a quarter of the party’s members bother to vote in an important leadership election is not a good sign.
Crombie ran for the leadership on what she claimed was a “centrist or even centre-right” policy platform, and stated that she believed the Ontario Liberals had moved too far to the left. Perhaps she believes that the province and country is moving further to the right so she needs to move accordingly, but her background would not suggest that she is particularly comfortable in that part of the political spectrum. Crombie was a backbench federal Liberal MP from 2008 to 2011, and her policy perspectives were very much in sync with the predictable Liberal stances at that time and certainly not anything close to centre-right.
The Ontario Liberals are also undoubtedly suffering from the very low popularity of the federal Trudeau Liberals and the hangover in Ontario of the McGuinty and Wynne Liberal governments. Crombie has also unusually decided she will stay on as Mayor of Mississauga, supposedly to oversee the municipal budget process, until some time early in 2024. This is quite unusual as politicians usually leave their existing positions once they win a leadership contest, and it seems like Crombie will be holding down two jobs – and two salaries – for the next few months. This doesn’t seem like a particularly good way to start her leadership of the Ontario Liberal party.
Leadership contests for any political party are an opportunity to whip up excitement and support from partisans and the general electorate. This particular leadership race did none of that, and may have just emphasized that people in Ontario continue to experience fatigue with the Liberals who greatly increased the province’s debt, kowtowed to public sector unions and their demands on taxpayers, pursued unrealistic “green” policies whose main impact was to double electricity costs for households and businesses and otherwise damaged Ontario’s economic prospects.
Crombie has about two and a half years before the next election to establish herself as leader and revitalize a party that currently holds only 9 seats in the legislature such that it is known as the “minivan party”. She will also need to find a riding to run in to obtain a seat in the Ontario legislature. When the previous leader, Steven Del Duca, was in opposition following the 2018 victory of the Ford Conservatives, he never held a seat in the legislature and was severely handicapped by that reality. Crombie needs to put a focus on winning a seat in the near future if she doesn’t want to meet Del Duca’s fate of being an ineffectual leader operating outside of the legislature. In her victory speech, Crombie said that “Being an Ontario Liberal is back”. Considering the decimation of the party over the last two elections, it will take some time to see if that is true.
She has published numerous articles in journals, magazines & other media on issues such as free trade, finance, entrepreneurship & women business owners. Ms. Swift is a past President of the Empire Club of Canada, a former Director of the CD Howe Institute, the Canadian Youth Business Foundation, SOS Children’s Villages, past President of the International Small Business Congress and current Director of the Fraser Institute. She was cited in 2003 & 2012 as one of the most powerful women in Canada by the Women’s Executive Network & is a recipient of the Queen’s Silver & Gold Jubilee medals.