What the debate told us about a Grit comeback
Also: New chief, watchdog wanted, feds foray into housing, Covid blues are back
ABOVE THE FOLD
ABOUT LAST NIGHT — Liberal leadership contenders have drawn their battle lines and the person to beat has been singled out — by both friendly and enemy fire.
BONNIE CROMBIE took the closest thing to a lashing in the first of five official leadership debates last night in Thunder Bay. Crombie is considered the frontrunner — when it comes to membership sign-ups, money-making prowess and recognizability in the polls — and her opponents’ jabs, some more subtle than others, made it clear that they see her as a threat.
NATE ERSKINE-SMITH, YASIR NAQVI and TED HSU took aim at Crombie’s foot-in-mouth moments on the Greenbelt and health care spending, the fact she has taken donations from developers — a hot-potato issue at Queen’s Park these days — and her less-than-stellar record on housing starts in Mississauga.
Naqvi dissed Crombie as “DOUG FORD lite.”
“You cannot elect a leader who one day says they’re going to open the Greenbelt and the next day changes their mind — or one who takes money from the same people who are donating to Doug Ford and says that somehow they’re going to act any different,” Naqvi said.
Crombie played defence, saying she welcomed the opportunity to “correct the record.” But for the most part, she stuck to criticizing Ford and the Conservatives, painting herself as someone who isn’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with the Premier. She also said “that’s not right” when Erskine-Smith quipped that ADIL SHAMJI would make a solid Health Minister.
Cash grab: Even the PCs took aim at the Mississauga Mayor, who is taking an unpaid leave of absence from City Hall next month while she goes full-tilt on her leadership bid. “It must be nice to take a prolonged vacation from your job. It’s clear Bonnie only sees being mayor as a backup plan rather than what it is: a full-time job. She’s hedging her bets on becoming leader of the Ontario Liberals when she should be serving the people of Mississauga. Classic Bonnie: It’s always about her,” reads the governing party’s latest fundraising email blast.
Hot takes: According to one senior Liberal, Crombie relied too heavily on her notes — something that should be Debate 101.
“It’s shameful Bonnie isn’t off-book with how much time they spent prepping her. The premier needs to be able to speak for two minutes — and longer — without being a scripted puppet,” they texted. “Bonnie is so scripted and controlled by her old guard campaign team she doesn’t even know if she had a housing policy,” they added, referring to when Crombie hesitated to raise her hand when candidates were asked who had released a platform.
Still, it was “smart that [Crombie] stuck to bashing Dougie…that’s pure class given what was coming at her from others on stage,” texted another operative.
Another insider took aim at Naqvi’s crew. “I like Yasir but his policy team IS [STEVEN] DEL DUCA’s. We need to move on from that thinking.”
Some were out for blood. “No jabs or sucker punches in what seemed to be a community open house and not a debate,” said another longtime strategist. And the fact that the PCs fundraising email coincided with the debate and only attacked Crombie was “not an accident.”
“I want them to go full-on Real Housewives,” another added.
Others blamed lagging momentum on dwindling support for their federal cousins.
“I’m so fucking checked out from this thing,” said a seasoned Liberal organizer. “The big thing that has caused the [Ontario Liberal Party] harm in the final stretch before the membership cut-off is the feds. There’s a measurable decline in interest based on waning support for JUSTIN TRUDEAU right now.”
Liberals unveil their next captain on December 2.