Chairman's Desk

Without a seat at Queen’s Park, Ontario is Bonnie Crombie’s to discover — and conquer

So, which will it be: door No. 1 or door No. 2?

The question, of course, is one of the very first that confronts the newly elected leader of the Ontario Liberal party, Bonnie Crombie.

And what will the door she chooses tell us about how she intends to lead?

Until just this past week, Crombie was the mayor of Mississauga. But now that she is clear of this obligation and can fully turn her mind to defeating Premier Doug Ford and the Ontario PCs, Crombie must decide whether — and when — to seek a seat in the Ontario legislature.

And this is where those two doors come into play

Many would advise that it is crucial for Crombie to get a seat as quickly as possible. Those who hold this view — door No. 1 — would argue that it is only there, in the people’s house, that the new Liberal leader can effectively hold the government to account and demonstrate her ability to one day become premier.

They would further argue that it is from that green leather seat that the new leader can best form a relationship with the press gallery, which is an essential ingredient in a successful general election campaign.

And, finally, they would say it is respectful of our democratic process.

Others — and I am one of them — see things very differently and strongly believe Crombie’s best choice is door No. 2.

Door No. 2 holds that she need not worry about getting a seat until the next election. Those who believe this is the best approach understand that, for her, sitting in the legislature is a waste of time.

We believe this for several reasons — both strategic and tactical. Throw in practical as well.

Let’s start with the practical: the Liberals aren’t considered, under the rules of the legislature, to be an official party. What does that mean? It means that Question Period is essentially the Marit Stiles and Doug Ford show, with Crombie looking like a not-ready-for-prime-time understudy. It means the Liberals are not guaranteed a question every day.

Now the tactical: the Liberals currently hold just nine seats. For Bonnie to be able to run in a byelection, one of those nine would have to resign. Whilst there is plenty of precedent for this approach, with a caucus of nine and a party that can charitably be called impecunious, it would seem to be unwise.

A lot of time and effort that would be more efficiently spent elsewhere would have to be directed to ensuring the leader’s victory.

But now to the strategic: it simply doesn’t matter. Not a whit.

Experience in a legislature? She already has it. Crombie sat as a federal Liberal MP from 2008 until 2011.

Relationships with the media? She’s got those as well. Besides, long gone are the days when the gallery was the gatekeeper to communicating with the public.

But more than all of that, being free of the obligations of being tied to Queen’s Park will allow Crombie to play to her strengths as a terrific retail politician.

Now, it is generally believed that incumbent governments have a structural advantage in elections, that incumbency allows them to hold most of the cards.

But it is her abilities as a retail politician where Crombie pulls even with the premier. Without question, Ford is the most accomplished retail politician of his generation. He’s proven he can connect with Ontarians from all walks of life. It was central to his ability to lead Ontario through the pandemic. It remains his superpower.

That said, his responsibilities as premier, which keep him tied to the Pink Palace, don’t let him show off those powers as much as he might like.

And Crombie’s freedom from the very same restrictions allow her to shine.

So while Ford’s Conservatives will look to define the new leader with a multi-channel ad campaign, Crombie will be free to tour the province in a bus with her face splashed on all sides, giving real-life proof to another reality.

Door No. 2 it is.

This article first appeared in Toronto Star on January 14, 2024.

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