A new Liberal leader in town
Here's how Bonnie Crombie's stunning squeaker played out on the convention floor
There's a new Liberal leader in town: it's Bonnie Crombie. Here's how her squeaker played out in the hall — and how the shade, mudslinging and "elitist" brushing is shaping up to be.
On the ground: After a week of hyping up a round one win, Mississauga's mayor eked out the party's leadership on the third ballot.
Inside the room, it was tense: as it was declared close but no cigar for the frontrunner on round one, the room fell quiet. A dejected, visibly unhappy Crombie exited the room while her squad circled her senior advisors for a check in. "We're in a better place than the others," one anxious supporter was overheard telling the crew. Crombie's top allies stood unfazed, boosting morale and reassuring the crew that a win was incoming.
Still: "She expected more from her team," said one source, explaining that a decisive, round one win was the big goal. "No one else [has] that capacity to grow," said a second, not sweating the unhurried win.
Ahead of the second round drop, goss in the hall turned to "Bonnie in three." While her campaign whispered "cautious" optimism, certain that she'd pull the win on third, Yasir Naqvi's inner circle remained undaunted ahead of what many anticipated was an imminent elimination. Despite it all, Naqvi was still rubbing elbows with energetic supporters.
Be FR: All the while, Crombie's key competitor was already bracing for a miss with Nate Erskine-Smith telling his encircling allies that it was already over, a gutsy admission that stunned some. "I'm a realist," he told us, all smiles.
With round two done, Bonnie's path to triumph widened. Naqvi was dropped in what was a sour moment for the former attorney general. As his emotional older brother watched on and with his younger son wiping tears nearby, the veteran acknowledged the history of his bid: as an immigrant, being on the ballot was a moment to celebrate. "People welcomed me in their home" during the race, he said, making him feel like he's "one of their own."
"Not a single regret," he said, disappointed but not down.
It was another tale in the counting room. Tallying had begun at the crack of dawn, with volunteers and scrutineers alike entering a lockup: no phones, no smartwatches, no loose lipped leaksters. Despite the suspense in the hall, the trajectory was clear in the counting room. "The sense was that Bonnie would win," said one source. "Anything was possible but anecdotally, we all knew what we were seeing."
Though the second ballot was "evenly spread across all three candidates," a pattern emerged on third, with the one, two pact coming into play. "If Bonnie had been a bit lower on first round, Nate would've won on third. He just couldn't make up that gap. The pact seemed to help him. It was just too late," they added.
"Things ran very well and were very organized. First ballot took hours to count. Second was fast and third took a bit longer," texted a second source. By opting out of a break between second and third, the counters were a ballot ahead, outpacing the programming in the hall. "There were a few exciting moments watching the results get tallied and certain areas come in," they added.
Boo, no drama: "I think the most [drama] was when we ran out of coffee and waited on lunch refresh," one said.
All that's left was a winner: Back in the hall, as attendees awaited round three to drop, mingling to cheese, veggies, free water and spendy drinks, the four candidates were ushered backstage. The runner up privately conceded to Crombie, who ran away with the party's leadership on third with a slim, seven per cent lead.
In the room, the jubilant new leader took the stage of the electric room, with Crombie's three children jumping and a "Bonnie, Bonnie, Bonnie!" chant erupting to the news of her win.
"Thank you for taking a spark and turning it into a big red flame here today," she told the room. "There is no question, being an Ontario Liberal is back!"
But but but: It was all about the U word — as the inevitable, elusive calls for unity came from across the board with the party now setting sight on the next provincial election.
— "We've been in a family competition but now that rowdy game of risk that we've been playing — we're going to move over to the jigsaw table, we're going to put it together and work together," the "street fighter" added.
Opposition parties were quick to unleash. The Tories made a surprise cameo sans swag — to this reporter's dislike. "We heard there's a party happening so we thought we'd see what's up," one cheeky staffer told us.
Crombie's failure to capture the leadership on round one spoke to the "internal divide within the party," argued PC MPP Matt Rae, while the party launched a warm up of an incoming attack ad, painting Crombie as out of touch elitist. "She doesn't get the concerns of everyday people. She drives fancy cars and vacations at her home in the Hamptons," they said in a curt counter.
The NDP launched meetbonnie.ca to paint the rookie captain with the Ford brush, inviting the party's progressive flank to join the party and replace the Tories with "a government that will make life easier and more affordable for real people — not Doug and Bonnie's insiders."
"It's clear they're fighting to keep second place because they know it's now between Bonnie and Doug, and Bonnie is their biggest threat," one source shot back.
Meanwhile: Premier Ford took aim at the rookie captain in the House, saying she was "out of touch with the average person." The two have a history: an irritated Ford told Crombie during a presser last year to "get on board" and "stop whining," over her criticism of legislation that would quash developer fees.
In her inaugural presser as leader, belted by her caucus, Crombie shot back and spelled out what's next:
— On the Tories: "They are desperate and flailing — and of course, they want you to be talking about me. They've hushed the City of Toronto on their Ontario Place fiasco, but they're not going to hush me. So, every time you see me, I'm going to spend my time and my energy reminding Ontario that they deserve better than Doug Ford and this very shady, scandal plagued government."
— On soaring in private jets with developers: "I have no idea what he's talking about and quite frankly, I don't think he knows what he's talking about."
— On being painted as an elitist: "I have worked very, very hard in my life to achieve everything that I have. I have earned every single penny. I have been not handed a political dynasty, nor have I been handed a business that has been built up for my offspring to run."
— On housing incompetence: "Has Paul Calandra built any housing? Thank you, next question."
The mudslinging is a preview of what is shaping up to be a nasty episode between both political foes. Publicly and privately, there's no lost love. Ford has yet to congratulate Crombie on her win and is considering kiboshing the divorce of Peel Region, which would have been viewed as her legacy project municipally.
At a Christmas party, the new leader walked up to Ford to break the ice. "He shook hands, said nothing to Crombie, then joked to someone nearby, 'We know each other well.' But no words of congratulations or welcome."
Nevertheless, the slim win is being viewed as a wake up call for what's coming. "Her campaign team nearly f—ked it all up. They told everyone that it wasn't possible to go past first ballot. I'm skeptical if any of them know what's up," said one Liberal, reflecting on the results.
"The Tories are gonna throw the kitchen sink at Bonnie so her new team has to be absolutely cutthroat."
Crombie's next order of business is to staff up. The process is already underway, according to a source, as part of a "transition" phase. Crombie's campaign director Darryn McArthur, top advisors D'arci McFadden and Genevieve Tomney and Sciteline's Chad Walsh are the four allies being tossed around as her next chief. McArthur, who headed her last mayoral bid, is viewed as the favourite.
Crombie is expected to bid adieu to municipal politics in the new year, wrapping up the city's budgetary process, triggering a vote to replace her. In a meeting with provincial council the morning after, she outlined her next plan: raise a million dollars by the month's end and host a policy convention next year.
But for now, in one operative's words: "Everyone needs a second to recharge. It's been a long campaign."