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Liberal leadership candidates: Crombie looks to use big-city mayoral experience to revitalize party

Bonnie Crombie is on leave as mayor of Mississauga, a role that she has held since 2014
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie taking part in the leaders debate in Thunder Bay

The five candidates vying to be the next leader of the Ontario Liberal Party squared off in a debate in Thunder Bay last week.

TBnewswatch spoke to all five of the leadership hopefuls, asking them the same series of questions.

Bonnie Crombie has been the mayor of Mississauga since 2014, and had previously been a Liberal MP.

Q: How do you see the rebuild for the Liberal Party in the province? How would the party regain the two provincial seats in Thunder Bay and perhaps pick up the seats in Kenora-Rainy River and Kiiwetinoong?

Crombie: “To be present. To be present. I've travelled across the province and I hear how all communities, small towns, rural communities, especially the northern communities feel isolated and neglected and I would travel here often and help rebuild the party.

But you can see from [Thursday night's] debate, we have five great candidates that have expressed interest in leading the Ontario Liberal Party and the Ontario Liberal Party was clearly the winner [Thursday] because we have sparked that excitement in renewal.

The fact that the five of us who I think are all extremely qualified candidates and they have great expertise on so many areas as you can see from, are interested in leading our party that in itself crossing the province, each of us talking to voters, talking to Ontarians, listening to their issues and their needs that has sparked the renewal.

Q: What is your intention as leader for the resource sector? How do you balance environmental impacts to the land around forestry?

Crombie: I think the resource sector could lead us to a green, clean sustainable economy. And I think that also we will need to work with local communities and Indigenous communities and ensure that not only that resource extraction is done in an environmentally safe way, but that the revenue generated as a result of these industries are shared equitably among local communities and Indigenous communities as well. Because I'm a mayor of a city, I know how to attract investment and I would want to lead investment attraction into the mining industry, forestry industry, pulp and paper, tourism, agricultural, etcetera to ensure that we are sparking growth and creating jobs. Job creation for me is fundamental.

Q: Do you intend to consult with the First Nations groups that are impacted by the Ring of Fire development?

Crombie: Well, as I mentioned, you can probably take part of that answer that I think it's so important that they are part of this discussion and that they share equitably in the decisions that are made and then the revenues that are generated.

And I would want to be meeting as soon as possible and regularly with all indigenous and first nations communities.

Q: Do you have a strategy to recruit and retain health care workers, especially for smaller markets within Northwestern Ontario?

Crombie: “Health care is one of the [things that is at a] crisis and tipping point. It is the key issue in the next election and the problems that are challenging in the South are more acute in the North.

The challenge of attracting and retaining health care professionals, whether they be doctors, nurses or [personal support workers]. I have a number of ideas and you can certainly look at my website.

But some of them include, you know, free tuition for health care professionals. If they sign a [multi-year] agreement, incentivizing health care professionals for staying on, not only to attract them because the challenge then becomes retaining them and we need to incentivize them to stay on longer.

And of course, we have to boost spaces in medical schools and then internship programs in hospitals and clinics as well.

So, there's also need to streamline as you heard [Thursday], the licensing and accreditation of foreign doctors, but we also need to increase spaces for our locally trained doctors as well.

With nurses as well, there's opportunities to look at one year accreditation programs to get more of them into the system as well. And of course, repeal Bill 124 and ensure they have a fair and equitable wage.”

Q: How do you plan to address housing shortages across Northwestern Ontario, particularly in smaller communities?

Crombie: You know, let's ask ourselves is our life more affordable today than it was before Doug Ford became premier. And a number of measures have to be put in place to safeguard affordability, whether it's, it's in our energy and whether it's in our electricity or groceries or our gas, the price of our homes, the price of our rent, as I mentioned, the price of a one-bedroom apartment here in Thunder Bay is $1500. It's out of reach of most people seeking a rental because of the policies of the Ford government.

The dream of owning a home is almost out of reach. We need to incentivize local developers to build locally and make it more cost effective for them so that the price of a home is cheaper to the homeowner, not just the cost of building. Of course, we have to reduce costs so that the building cost is lower. So ultimately, the price of a home can be less and it's connected to labour shortages. So we need to put in place retraining and upskill job programs.

It's tied to supply chain issues to bringing the product to the supplies needed to build, to market here in the north. And that of course, you heard me speak earlier about investment in our roads and our road system, whether it's four lane highways on highway 69 or Trans-Canada or the two plus one along highway 11 in particular, but on 17 as well. So, improving our road network to make it safer for our logistics and transportation needs to make our supply chain smoother to bring the goods up to market. And then ultimately getting the goods here up north will increase greater affordability and bring the product needed to build homes too.

There are so certainly there are issues complicating the building, the building and development of homes, whether it's in the south or in the north. And they include the price of real estate, which is highest it's ever been the price of financing those projects. And we see that interest rates are at an all-time high rate. They haven't been this high in decades. The labour shortages that exist and of course, the supply chain issues that exist, all those factors have to be addressed before we can bring down the ultimate price of a home.”

The leadership election was called following the June 2022 election where the party won just eight seats and saw the resignation of Steven Del Duca, now the mayor of Vaughan.

The ranked ballots will be cast on Nov. 25 and 26, with the new leader selected on Dec. 2.