EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared on The Trillium, a new Village Media website devoted to covering provincial politics at Queen’s Park.
Bonnie Crombie is the new leader of the Ontario Liberal Party after defeating Nate Erskine-Smith by a thin margin.
Crombie, Mississauga’s mayor, was announced as the winner of the Liberals’ leadership contest early on Saturday evening at an event in downtown Toronto.
"We all know that we're in for an even bigger fight ahead," said Crombie. "We have to be ready to work even harder, together."
"Because Doug Ford and his Conservatives — they will be coming after us at any minute now, so we have to be ready."
The four-candidate contest was decided on the final ballot under the Ontario Liberals’ new ranked ballot system. Crombie was the leader after the first and second rounds of ballot counts and then secured enough support from third-place finisher Yasir Naqvi’s voters to give her the victory.
Ultimately, the result means the gamble Erskine-Smith and Naqvi took in announcing one another as their own second choice — which they also encouraged their supporters to do — was not enough to push either over the top.
Erskine-Smith said Crombie ran "a wicked campaign" that was "a testament to the ability to build the kind of team we need to be competitive." He wished her luck but said he's not sure how he'll be involved with the provincial party.
"We ran an incredibly competitive campaign," he said. "We came so close. And I think people had written us off from the get-go and we showed that they shouldn't write us off."
In the end, Crombie won with 6,911 points — 53.4 per cent of the points — to Erskine-Smith's 6,029.
The turnout was about 22 per cent of the approximately 100,000 Ontario Liberal Party members.
Each of the province’s 124 ridings was allotted 100 points, each of the 10 Ontario Young Liberal student clubs was allotted 50 points and each of the eight women’s clubs was allotted five points. All points were awarded in proportion to the number of ballots cast in each riding or club.
Crombie was widely considered the frontrunner when she entered the race last spring and leapfrogged over the competition in fundraising, a position that was solidified when MPP Adil Shamji dropped out of the race and endorsed her.
Her campaign has pitched the popular Mississauga mayor as the one candidate who “spooks” Premier Doug Ford and multiple polls have shown that Crombie’s leadership could give her party a boost against Ford’s PCs.
The Ontario NDP came for her moments after the results were announced, releasing an attack website at meetbonnie.ca that paints her as "Doug Ford lite," a criticism of her Naqvi levelled during the campaign, and invites progressives to join the NDP. At the same time, the Progressive Conservatives attacked her as in favour of higher taxes, more gridlock and fewer homes.
"Sounds a little schizophrenic," she quipped, when asked about the criticism from both sides at her first press conference as leader.
Erskine-Smith, the MP for Beaches—East York, pitched himself as the generational renewal his party needs. His constant refrain was that he offered the serious, principled leadership that his party needs to beat Ford. His supporters said he appealed to the party’s younger progressive wing, who appreciate his reputation as a principled maverick and see him as a breath of fresh air.
Naqvi, the MP for Ottawa Centre and a former Ontario attorney general, bet on a strategy of targeting ridings with few Liberal members, and a high ratio of points-to-votes ratio. A Naqvi win, his supporters said, would mean the chance for the first premier of colour, and first Muslim Ontarian to lead the province. His personal story of immigrating to Canada resonates with the diverse membership list, they said.
Hsu, a former MP and current MPP for Kingston and the Islands, had a strong base of local support and ran a policy-forward campaign.
After the second round, Crombie had 6,047 points — 46.7 per cent — and Erskine-Smith had 3,792 points, or 29.3 per cent.
Yasir Naqvi was eliminated after receiving 3,101 points, 24 per cent.
On the first ballot, Crombie had won 5,559 points — 43 per cent. Erskine-Smith was the runner-up with 3,320 points, or 25.7 per cent, followed by Naqvi with 2,760 points, or 21.3 per cent.
Ted Hsu won 1,300, or 10 per cent, and dropped off the ballot.