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Bonnie Crombie set to step down as Mississauga mayor. What next?

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Bonnie Crombie departs as Mississauga’s mayor
WATCH: Bonnie Crombie is leaving her role as Mississauga mayor almost 10 years after she first took office. The newly minted Ontario Liberal leader leaves an empty chair that many on city council are already vying to fill. Global News' Queen's Park Bureau Chief Colin D'Mello reports – Jan 12, 2024

After nearly a decade at the helm of Ontario’s third-largest city, Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie is stepping down from her role to officially enter the provincial political arena as leader of the Ontario Liberals.

Crombie, who was first elected as mayor in 2014, will formally resign the role as of 5 p.m. Friday and will trigger a mayoral byelection once the seat is declared vacant at a city council meeting on Jan. 17.

“It’s a bittersweet time,” Crombie told journalists at a council meeting. “But I’m at peace.”

Crombie was just the fourth mayor of Mississauga, taking the reins of the city from Hazel McCallion, who had held the role for 36 years and was one of the longest-serving mayors in Canadian history.

While Crombie said she strived to emulate McCallion’s legacy, she also saw her role as writing the “next chapter” of Mississauga’s legacy.

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“It was time to take Mississauga in a different direction and make us more an urban city,” Crombie said.

But while Crombie put a “big premium” on economic development and job growth, she was also criticized for Mississauga’s slower progress on building housing in the city.

During the recent Ontario Liberal leadership campaign, Crombie’s opponents accused her of “opposing gentle density” and targeted her record of building housing.

One leadership rival, Nate Erskine-Smith, said Mississauga built fewer than 16,000 homes from 2012 to 2021 and suggested she faced a credibility issue on the file.

Sensitive to the criticism — especially as she transitions to a provincial role — Crombie recently used her strong mayor powers to override city council and allow fourplexes to the built in residential neighbourhoods as of right at the end of 2023.

“I think you’ve seen some significant shifts with this council in the recent years,” Crombie said.

City councillors paid tribute to Crombie’s legacy at Mississauga City Hall on Wednesday during a two-hour ceremony that included highlight reels of Crombie’s time as mayor.

Crombie said she was confident her successor would be a strong leader at the head of council.

“I know the city will be in good hands,” Crombie said.

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Who will be Mississauga's next mayor?

When Crombie won her first victory in 2014, a late endorsement from longtime mayor McCallion turned a tight race into a coronation.

Crombie had been polling near neck and neck with Steve Mahoney when McCallion made the endorsement but ended up winning the race with more than 63 per cent of the popular vote.

The newly elected Ontario Liberal leader said she doesn’t have any plans to endorse a successor in the upcoming mayoral race.

“I’m not in a position to endorse any candidate at this time, my seat has not been vacated, and a byelection hasn’t been called,” Crombie said in a statement to Global News.

Crombie’s decision to avoid the perception of anointing a successor has fertilized the ground for an open campaign in the upcoming mayoral byelection. Several sitting councillors are among those considering a run to replace her.

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“This is a very pivotal moment in Mississauga history,” Ward 7 Coun. Dipika Damerla said.

“We just finished 50 years and we move on to the next 50 years. And it’s really about defining what the next 50 years is going to look like.”

Damerla is among the councillors considering a mayoral run, along with her Ward 1 colleague Stephen Dasko, Ward 2’s Alvin Tedjo and Carolyn Parrish in Ward 5, the area Crombie represented before she ran for mayor.

“Right now, I think I’m the senior citizen — both age-wise and experience-wise — on the council,” Parrish told Global News.

She said she plans to resign her Ward 5 council seat, triggering another byelection in the city, to run for mayor.

There is no requirement for councillors to resign their seat to run for other elected office, though MPPs and MPs have to give up their seats if they want to launch a campaign.

“We’ve got a couple of tough years ahead, we just came through that mess with the region and that’s kind of settled but there’s still a lot of fallout from that,” Parrish said.

Ward 1’s Coun. Dasko said he plans to run for the city’s top elected position at a “critical” time in its history.

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“What’s next is exciting and daunting at the same time,” he told Global News, promising to run on a platform of “fiscal responsibility and housing” among other priorities.

Tedjo said he was “considering” a run for mayor but hadn’t come to a final decision.

“People are going to be paying attention to this byelection because they know it’s an opportunity for change,” he said, “and it’s an opportunity for them to have their input of how they want their city to move forward.”

Voters can expect a decision from Damerla within a couple of weeks, the Ward 7 representative said.

“I think it’s going to be a competitive race,” Damerla, a former Ontario Liberal cabinet minister, said. “I really welcome a very healthy, competitive race, a clash of ideas. I think that’s really important.”

Others have suggested senior local politicians from other levels of government with strong reputations in the city could run for the mayor’s chair.

Global News contacted former federal transportation minister Omar Alghabra to ask if he was considering a run but did not hear back ahead of publication.

What next for Crombie?

As Crombie takes over the leadership of the struggling Ontario Liberal Party, her focus seems to be readiness for the 2026 provincial election campaign and ensuring the Grits are prepared to form government.

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Crombie said that includes a leader’s introductory and listening tour, policy summits and fundraising throughout 2024.

“There’s a lot of work on the ground to do to rebuild the party and reinvigorate and inspire the grassroots,” Crombie said, alluding to the two successive election campaigns in which the Liberals were rejected by the electorate.

The work to rebuild the party’s election war chest began, in earnest, after Crombie was elected leader on Dec. 2, 2023.

The party immediately launched an end-of-year fundraising target of $1 million in 31 days – a goal that Crombie managed to surpass by pulling in $1.2 from party supporters.

“I think that was a barometer of my leadership and the confidence people are being back to the Liberal Party,” Crombie said.

“I’m going to put a premium on fundraising because we’re being out-fundraised 10 to one,” Crombie said, noting the Ford Progressive Conservatives’ fundraising might.

Crombie aims to “continue at that pace” by hosting a series of leader’s dinners as well as smaller-market fundraisers.

Beyond fundraising, the Liberal Party is considering dates for its annual general meeting, where Crombie wants to hold a leader’s summit to create a platform that “everyone buys into.”

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