Crombie’s Liberal leadership campaign returns to Simcoe County

Crombie’s Liberal leadership campaign returns to Simcoe County

Mississauga mayor speaks about affordability, health care, education, climate change and preserving farmland during Bradford stop

Ontario Liberal leadership hopeful and Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie visited Sabella Restaurant in Bradford on Tuesday evening to speak with supporters and share her vision for the party and the province.

The third-place party is looking for a new leader after Steven Del Duca stepped down from the role following defeat to Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative Party in June 2022, when the Liberals won just eight seats, four shy of the number needed for official party status.

Ontario Liberal Party members are expected to cast ranked ballots for a new leader on Nov. 25 and 26.

While Crombie expects more policy details to be made available on her website in the coming days, she sat down for an interview ahead of her meet-and-greet in Bradford and explained the main areas on which she would focus: health care, education, affordability, climate change, and preserving farmland.

“On health care, I think we’ll all acknowledge the system is in crisis and broken. It’s underfunded and overburdened,” she said.

Crombie says health-care providers are overworked and underpaid, causing nurses to leave the public sector and go work in private agencies where they can work less and earn more.

“Why don’t we pay them appropriately as they should be?” she asked.

In addition to taking issue with how wages for public-sector workers were capped under provincial Bill 124, Crombie said the province isn’t allocating funds appropriately.

“The money is not being transferred to the hospitals where it’s needed. It’s sitting in general revenue and the premier is telling us he has a surplus. If he transfers the money to the departments that require it, there wouldn’t be a surplus,” she said in reference to the Economic and Budget Outlook, Spring 2023 report from the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario dated June 13, which found the province had “$22.6 billion in excess funds.”

Outside of hospitals and doctors’ offices, Crombie also wants to see more investments in home care to help seniors, like her 87-year-old mother, remain independent longer, as well as in long-term care for when seniors need greater assistance.

In both instances, she believes personal support workers (PSWs) should be better compensated.

Crombie also took issue with under-funding in education.

Looking at Bradford, she saw the need for multiple new elementary schools and a new high school.

“This is one of the fastest-growing communities, and further investments need to be made,” she said.

While Crombie sees urban areas struggling with overburdened classrooms and online learning, she noted that in more rural and remote locations, declining populations have lead to school closures, which robs those areas of their community hubs.

While she remembers the accolades the Ontario education system received in the early 2010s, Crombie says the system is in decline and needs greater funding to provide supports for special education and children with autism.

In travelling the province, Crombie said she hears that Ontario’s young people are worried they won’t be able to purchase a home or find a reasonably sized rental to accommodate their needs.

“It’s one thing in the urban areas to encourage the building of tall towers with single bedrooms, but the reality is, we need medium density with family-sized units. We need family-sized units for young families, but also for newcomers that are coming to our cities,” she said.

To that end, Crombie wants to see municipalities given the authority to implement zoning that would make it easier to build more townhouses and multiplexes in existing residential neighbourhoods to help the working class, as well as including affordability targets in new developments.

“In Mississauga, we asked for 10 per cent affordability as part of every development, but this government’s only legislated five per cent,” she said.

Crombie feels the focus should be on finding ways to make housing more affordable for home buyers, rather than for home builders, and criticized the portion of provincial Bill 23 that reduced the amount of development charges paid to municipalities, emphasizing the importance they play in paying for infrastructure like roads, sewers and freshwater delivery.

“Growth should pay for growth … to support housing you need build roads and a road network, but also public transit transportation,” she said.

That said, Crombie is still in favour of accelerating municipal plans to accommodate the province’s target of adding 1.5 million new homes by 2031, and acknowledged the recently announced Building Faster Fund to help municipalities recoup some of the lost revenue from changes to development charges.

However, she took issue with targets and funding being tied to housing starts and units created, instead of the number of permits or approvals provided by municipalities.

“At the end of the day, it’s really market conditions that will dictate whether that housing will be built,” she said, noting that in Mississauga there are about 20,000 units that have been approved where construction is sitting idle and about another 60,000 for which the town has yet to receive site plans as developers consider how best to make use of heights and densities.

As a result, Crombie feels municipalities should be given the authority to include sunset clauses in building permits, which would cause them to expire if too much time passes without work proceeding.

She also wants to see all three levels of government — municipal, provincial and federal — work together to tackle the issue, rather than blaming one another.

“Things went very smoothly when the provincial government was building subsidized housing and the federal government used to build co-operative housing through the CMHC. Those were very effective,” she said.

One area in which Crombie doesn’t want to see more development is in protected Greenbelt land, as she feels it is both unnecessary and counter to the efforts of combating climate change, and pointed to recent flooding and wildfires seen in Canada and globally.

“We have to acknowledge that there is a serious climate-change crisis,” she said.

Protecting greenspace is key to that fight in her mind, and she thinks the lands recently removed from the Greenbelt are unlikely to see any dense or affordable homes, or any real development any time soon, due to a lack of infrastructure.

“It just contributes to urban sprawl,” she said.

That sprawl poses risks for protected environmental lands, as well as farmland, the latter of which the province is losing at a rate of about 129 hectares per day, according to the Ontario Farmland Trust.

“Food security is so important, we’re so proud to be Canadian to say we have food security here, we can feed our people, that our farms feed towns, they feed cities,” Crombie said, noting that food-bank use is up all over the province, including affluent municipalities like Mississauga.

To address that issue, she wants to provide protections for farmland and incentives for farmers to continue farming their lands, including improved crop insurance, grants for machinery and help with succession plans.

On the issue of recently expanded strong mayor powers, Crombie said some members of the Big City Mayors group asked her not to advocate against it, but she doesn’t feel the need to use them personally.

“There may be some municipalities that would use some of the powers in some cases. … The rest of us will just carry on the way we did and come to a consensus which we feel is more democratic,” she said.

Similarly, Crombie felt the province’s pending appointment of regional facilitators to investigate the functions of upper-tier municipalities, including the County of Simcoe, wasn’t a one-size-fits-all situation, noting that some might be working well, but some others might want a varying extent of changes.

“I need to know better from each of those regions what their needs are,” she said.

In June, Bradford’s council sent a letter to the province welcoming the facilitators and urging them to consider factors such as fair representation, greater autonomy for lower-tier municipalities, efficiency and good governance.

As Mississauga’s mayor, Crombie fought in favour of the dissolution of Peel Region, as she felt the arrangement wasn’t beneficial for her city or for Brampton.

“It’s time to cut the umbilical cord and for both cities to control their own destiny,” she said.

Crombie also felt the need to know more before coming to a conclusion about the Bradford Bypass.

“I am one of the opponents of the 413 because of the vast nature of it crossing sensitive land and wetland. By extension, I would be very careful to be in support of the Bradford Bypass, but I would like to see the results, personally, of the environmental assessment and ensure that a full impact assessment had been done,” she said.

If Crombie were to become leader of the Ontario Liberal party, she said Bradford residents could expect her to focus on their needs and work with council, as she has done in the past when she made a presentation about the downtown revitalization program.

“If we as the Liberal party don’t design programs for small towns and rural communities, and northern communities and francophone communities as well, we’ll never form government again. … We need to be present everywhere,” she said.

Before being elected mayor of Mississauga in 2014, from 2011 to 2014, Crombie was the Ward 5 councillor and also sat on the Council of the Region of Peel, and from 2008 to 2011, she was the Liberal MP for Mississauga-Streetsville.

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