Could Mississauga's Mayor Become The Next Ontario Liberal Leader?

 

Could Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie be in line for a career change?

TVO veteran journalist Steve Paikin surmised that Crombie, who has served as the city's mayor since 2014, could be a potential candidate for leader of the Ontario Liberal Party.

In 2018 the Liberals under Wynne lost the provincial election to Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives, reducing the party to seven seats and resulting in the loss of 'official party status.' Since then, the party has struggled with fundraising and staying relevant in the provincial political scene this past year.

Former cabinet ministers Steven Del Duca and Michael Coteau, as well as former Liberal candidate Alvin Tedjo, are running to lead the third place party, but Paikin speculates that if the party wishes to find a clean break from the Wynne era, they should pick someone who has had no involvement with the previous Liberal government but does have some roots with the party.

Crombie, a former Liberal federal MP from 2008 to 2011, may fit that bill as Paikin notes during his observations of the party's convention this past weekend.


Let's unpack some of this analysis regarding a potential Bonnie Crombie candidacy for the Ontario Liberal Party leadership.

By definition, most municipal leaders in Ontario run non-partisan administrations as there are no official party labels at the municipal level. Although there is a perception that Crombie is playing nicer than most with Ford, that probably stems from her goal of getting Mississauga out of Peel Region, which requires the provincial government's approval.

But it's not as though the mayor has been agreeable with Ford all the time. Recent attempts to impose funding cuts to municipalities were met with calls to rescind them until next year by Crombie and mayors from other Ontario cities. Another example is Bill 108, which the province passed in order to spur more affordable housing, has been met with criticism by elected officials in both Mississauga and Brampton.

In either of those two instances, you could hardly chalk that up to partisan opposition.

Another of Paikin's arguments is that since 2011, when she won a municipal by-election to become a councillor before steamrolling to two wins for the mayor's position in 2014 and 2018, Crombie could be the winner the OLP is looking for who represents a clean break from the Kathleen Wynne era.

However, Mississauga is notorious for low voter turnout. The 2018 municipal election barely saw 27 per cent of the city’s registered voters cast a ballot for mayor and councillor races. So the overwhelming amount of people that voted for Crombie is really only a small slice of an electorate that rarely votes in municipal elections in Mississauga, an apathy which is a holdover from the three-decade reign of Hazel McCallion.

Crombie is not as well known as McCallion outside of Mississauga's borders, and with the ongoing trend of female premiers losing, there is the lingering factor that party activists should consider that is unfortunate to hear: a woman may not be able to win.


Finally, out of all these considerations we're missing the final most important question: does she even want the job?

According to a recent statement from Crombie, the mayor is happy in her current position.

“Mississauga is the sixth largest city in the country and is a city in high demand that needs a strong leader to ensure that it will reach its full potential as the world-class city it’s destined to be. As the Mayor of Mississauga, I already have one of the best jobs in the province and have no aspirations to run for the leader of any political party,” Crombie said in an emailed statement to insauga.com.

“I love my job and serving the residents of Mississauga and look forward to fulfilling my mandate over the next three and a half years that includes attaining independence, attracting more business investment to Mississauga, building more affordable housing and completing the Hurontario LRT.”

That said, if Crombie were to change course, the provincial Liberals might not be a bad choice. 

But she would still have her work cut out for her. 

Recent opinion polls have shown the Liberals ahead of Ford's PCs and the NDP, but that is more evidence of the strength of the Liberal brand as the party is currently leaderless. The perception of the party once they select a new leader will change by the next election.

Considering that this would most likely be a decade long project of rebuilding the former governing party into actual contention, it’s fair to question why Crombie would be interested in doing that grunt work rather than staying as Mississauga's mayor and putting together a portfolio of concrete accomplishments.

But then again, anything can happen in politics and time moves differently in those circles. Things may become more clear after the Ford government announces its decision on the regional government review.

The Liberals will hold a convention to replace Kathleen Wynne on March 7, 2020.

Only time will tell if we see Crombie sharing the stage with the other leadership contenders.

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