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Ontario Liberal leadership candidates at Toronto debate take aim at Premier Doug Ford

The Ontario Liberal leadership candidates debate at Toronto Metropolitan University (on Wednesday.  (Michael Wilson/CBC - image credit)
The Ontario Liberal leadership candidates debate at Toronto Metropolitan University (on Wednesday. (Michael Wilson/CBC - image credit)

Ontario Liberal leadership candidates tried to set themselves apart at a debate in Toronto on Monday but all expressed a desire to defeat Premier Doug Ford.

The debate, the second of five, took place at the Democracy Forum at Toronto Metropolitan University. It was moderated by the Toronto Star political columnist Martin Regg Cohn.

Cohn asked the five candidates why they want to be leader and premier. The candidates are Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie, Toronto Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith. Ottawa Liberal MP Yasir Naqvi, Kington Liberal MPP Ted Hsu and Toronto Liberal MPP Adil Shamji.

"I want to be premier because I want to change the direction, the course of direction, that this province is on," Crombie said at the debate. "It's harmful, it's wrong and it's dangerous."

Eskine-Smith said he left law for federal politics 10 years ago because the Liberal Party of Canada was in third place and had gone through two tough federal elections. He said he thought he could make the biggest difference there. It's where the Ontario Liberal Party is now, he added.

"We deserve better. If you want better, you participate. I want better and this is where I can make the biggest difference, delivering the smart, fair and honest government for the province of Ontario," Eskine-Smith said.

Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie speaking at the Ontario Liberal leadership debate at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) on September 20, 2023.
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie speaking at the Ontario Liberal leadership debate at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) on September 20, 2023.

Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie says: 'I want to be premier because I want to change the direction, the course of direction, that this province is on. It's harmful, it's wrong and it's dangerous.' (Michael Wilson/CBC)

Hsu said he has a lot of experience that he wants to put to use and he wants to make sure that everybody in the province has a roof over their heads and enough money to buy groceries and some left over for a rainy day.

"I want to tell everybody in the province and their kids and their families — I am for you. The Liberal party is for you."

Navqi said he wants to lead a "practical, principled Liberal" government that works for all citizens of Ontario, not only for the rich friends of the premier.

"My mission is to defeat Doug Ford in 2026," he said.

Shamji said he has worked for more than 10 years confronting the challenges of the province "eye to eye" in Toronto, rural and remote Ontario, First Nations communities and the Arctic.

"I want to bring a conception of selfless leadership and make this province as bright, happy and prosperous as it can be."

Cohn also asked the candidates about the possibility of a Progressive Conservative minority government and whether as leader they would prop up Ford and the PCs to keep them in power or bring them down by working with the NDP or the Green Party in some kind of alliance.

Navqi said: "I cannot support our current government under Doug Ford."

Hsu added: "No, most corrupt government in Ontario history, we can't support them."

Eskine-Smith said: "Bring them down. There's no other answer."

Crombie added: "Take down Doug Ford however we can, as soon as we can, bring on 2026."

Shamji said: "I will work with anyone who will work with me to take down Doug Ford."

The candidates agreed on more than they disagreed on when it came to building more affordable housing and protecting public health care.

Liberal MP for Beaches-East York, Nathaniel Erskine-Smith speaking at the Ontario Liberal leadership debate at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) on September 20, 2023.
Liberal MP for Beaches-East York, Nathaniel Erskine-Smith speaking at the Ontario Liberal leadership debate at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) on September 20, 2023.

Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, Liberal MP for Beaches-East York, says: 'We deserve better. If you want better, you participate. I want better and this is where I can make the biggest difference, delivering the smart, fair and honest government for the province of Ontario.' (Michael Wilson/CBC)

The few pointed attacks were aimed at Crombie.

Eskine-Smith asked: "Mayor Crombie, are you still open to land swaps on the Greenbelt?"

Crombie responded: "I have been very clear, I have been very clear that I believe in protecting and preserving our Greenbelt as we all do."

Party members are set to cast their ranked ballots on the weekend of Nov. 25 and the winner is to be unveiled Dec. 2.

The next leader will have the task of rebuilding the party after it failed in two consecutive elections to win enough seats to get official party status in the legislature, following 15 years in government.

Former leader Steven Del Duca resigned last year after the 2022 election loss. Three veteran Liberals wrote in a campaign debrief report that Del Duca was "unpopular" and also pointed to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a lack of overarching vision and not enough training or support for local campaigns as contributing factors.