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Liberal leadership candidates pitch visions for future of party and province

The five candidates addressed healthcare, housing and rebuilding voters trust in the Liberal Party for the 2026 election
From left to right: Nate Erskine-Smith, Bonnie Crombie, Yasir Naqvi, Ted Hsu and Adil Shamji

All five candidates in the race to become the next leader of the Ontario Liberal Party did their best to tackle issues that are exclusive to Northern Ontario.

Bonnie Crombie, Nate Erskine-Smith, Ted Hsu, Yasir Naqvi and Adil Shamji were all in Thunder Bay Thursday night engaging in the first of five total debates at Lakehead University.

After two consecutive elections where the Liberals failed to obtain official party status, they are now up to nine seats at Queen’s Park with a pair of by election wins in late July.

Regaining trust in the north

Trusting the Liberal Party and rebuilding the party in the north was a topic of conversation for Bonnie Crombie, who just began a leave of absence as the mayor of Mississauga, stating that the interim Liberal leader John Fraser has advised her to continue to tour Ontario instead of focusing on getting a seat in the legislature.

“As I'm touring around the province, you know what I'm hearing [in] all the small towns [and] rural communities? They all feel neglected and isolated,” she noted.

“When I meet people in cafes, I ask them how do you vote and what has your member of provincial parliament done lately? I ask would you be open to an honest [and] ethical government who [will] put money towards the priorities, be present and listen to you, engage with you, and empower your Provincial Liberal Association (PLA) to attract a great candidate through an open and fair early nomination process. I think that's so vitally important that our candidates can hit the ground running as early as possible and start knocking on doors to make a real difference.”

Nate Erskine-Smith, who is the Beaches-East York MP, feels the leader needs good local candidates to help represent Northern Ontario.

“I have spent eight years in caucus carving up space for myself delivering strong local representation. That is what I want you to do with me,” said Erskine-Smith.

“That is how we are going to rebuild our grassroots [through] engagement. It's also accountability by the leader. Back in March, I had one resolution that was passed [by the party] that I put forward. Whoever the next leader is will now have to meet with every riding association president on a regional basis every single year. So, there's accountability to that grassroots and we continue to engage and remain accountable at grassroots on an ongoing basis.”

Yasir Naqvi, the former provincial Attorney General current MP for Ottawa Centre, said the party and next leader need to build the riding associations all across the north.

“I have served as a party president, and [during that time] I went to all the held ridings to make sure that the riding associations had the resources [needed to conduct business]. Between 2011 and 2014, we actually picked up 10 seats because [of the] work that we put in the communities. [Candidates] were ready to go and talk to [their] constituents, and [voters] were ready to elect a Liberal and that's the work we need to do [going forward].”

Naqvi also is pushing for a northern policy summit, which will help create a stand-alone northern platform. He also wants to visit to Northern Ontario every quarter, recognizing that it takes time to travel to the different communities.

Healthcare issues

Two of the candidate’s referenced Bill 124 during the two-hour debate, which was introduced by the governing Progressive Conservatives in 2019 to cap the wage increases of Ontario Public Service employees at one percent.

Crombie told the audience a story about the town of Iroquois Falls being unable to secure healthcare funding for a very specific reason.

“I was speaking with Mayor Tory Delaurier, and I had a group of about 40 people out talking about this health care crisis. The mayor said they had funding for five doctors, but [they] were in competition with Kapuskasing and Hearst [for those medical professionals],” Crombie recalled. “[They] found four nursing practitioners, [but] couldn't get the funding for the four nursing practitioners because the funding was for the doctors. And that is simply wrong.”

Crombie noted that she would like to see the accreditation and licensing process of medical professionals that come to Ontario streamlined. She also said that there need to be incentives for people to stay in the North, which might include free tuition tied to a long-term service agreement.

Adil Shamji, the MPP for the Toronto riding of Don Valley East, is the critic for a number of portfolios including health, and talked about his fight against Bill 60.

“I fought so hard against publicly funded surgeries being moved into for profit [facilities]. My list of amendments on that legislation outnumbered in pages, the legislation itself, we have to get primary care right. Home care, community care, long term care, we have to get wages right and just parity between all of those sectors. When we talk about health policy, it's not just about nurses, doctors and hospitals, all policy is health policy.”

Back in May the province passed Bill 60, titled the Your Health Act, which allows more private clinics to offer certain publicly funded surgeries and procedures.

Ted Hsu, the MPP for Kingston and the Islands, told the debate that data had shown back when the Liberals were last in power that there was going to be a shortage of family doctors province wide.

“[When the party was in government] we started out this team based primary care idea, [which] I think worked out really well because you have different specialties,” recalled Hsu. “The idea is that physicians don't have to do as much administration if there's somebody who can do it better, and then you have certain things that nurses and nurse practitioners can take care of. [That initiative] eventually stopped because we were worried about the overall cost of the health care system, but many years have passed. I know that there are innovative ideas out there to do a team based primary care.”

The initiative was created in 2005 when Dalton McGuinty was premier with over 3.4 million Ontarians enroled in Family Health Teams in over 200 communities across the province.


Erskine-Smith argued the province can help the housing crisis by ending exclusionary zoning. 

“Ending [the barriers] that stand in the way of smart and sustainable growth. We need gentle dense everywhere, and greater density near transit and transportation quarters. We need to make sure that we get governments back in the game in non-market housing, affordable workforce housing, especially by the way here in Northern Ontario, developers aren't banging down the door. Governments have to be there to support housing.”

Other debates between the candidates will happen in Stratford (Oct. 1), Toronto (Oct. 24), Ottawa (Nov. 8) and Brampton on either Nov. 18 or 19.

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. 2nd.


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