Bonnie Crombie accuses Nate Erskine-Smith of ageism as first fight breaks out in Liberal leadership race

Bonnie Crombie accuses Nate Erskine-Smith of ageism as first fight breaks out in Liberal leadership race

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The first major skirmish of the Ontario Liberal leadership race has erupted with presumed front-runner Bonnie Crombie accusing rival Nate Erskine-Smith of ageism.

In an op-ed for the Star published Monday, Crombie, 63, fired back at Erskine-Smith, 39, after he said “we should be thinking of this as what kind of party do we want to build for the next 15-20 years.”

“I think I have that opportunity to build renewal in a way that Crombie doesn’t,” the three-term Beaches-East York Liberal MP said in an interview with the Star’s Bob Hepburn.

“Do you think if she loses the next election or doesn’t go third to first, do you think she will stick around? I’m not sure. I will,” said Erskine-Smith.

Those remarks troubled Crombie.

“Direct or veiled, any suggestion that a woman’s age has a negative impact on her ability to contribute, to make a difference or make a long-term commitment to her work isn’t just plain wrong — it’s harmful,” wrote the three-term Mississauga mayor, who is also a former Liberal MP.

“When it was suggested … by one of my competitors that my age would compromise my ability and willingness to lead the Ontario Liberal Party past 2026, I was hesitant to speak up,” continued Crombie.

“As a woman in politics it’s tempting to keep your head down and ignore the noise … What if speaking out drew more negative attention around my age (I’m 63). What if Twitter doing the math on how old I will be in 2030 (I’ll be 70) overshadows the important conversations that need to be happening right now as we re-energize the Ontario Liberal Party,” she said.

“But if we don’t go from third to first? Well, that takes me back to the question at hand — am I too old to lead this party past the 2026 election? Let me be perfectly clear. I’m a 63-year-old woman and I am in it for the long haul.”

Before penning her op-ed, Crombie said she “thought about the indomitable Lisa LaFlamme and her glorious grey hair.”

That’s a reference to the former CTV National News anchor whose ouster last summer at age 58 made headlines around the world.

Crombie wrote that she also “thought about every woman working in politics right now. And every woman considering it.”

As well, she remembered the contribution to public life of “my mentor, Hazel McCallion, who retired as mayor of Mississauga at the vibrant age of 93.”

For his part, Erskine-Smith emphasized “there is no place for ageism in our politics.”

“I did not and would not mention Mayor Crombie’s age as part of my case for generational renewal in the Ontario Liberal Party,” he said in a statement.

“To be clear, there are many great politicians of all ages who bring serious ideas and inspire people to get involved. From day one of my campaign, I’ve said that Ontario Liberals now need the same generational renewal we saw in our federal party 10 years ago,” the Toronto MP added.

“It’s an argument I’ve made since I started and before Mayor Crombie joined the race. I left law for politics because of that call for renewal, alongside a commitment to strong local representation,” he said.

“Crombie’s campaign has argued for ‘Bonnie in One,’ which suggests a shorter-term focus that I disagree with, particularly if that approach means overlooking the issues that animate and excite our young members, such as Ontario’s housing crisis and our need for a serious climate plan.”

The Liberal contest has been heating up this summer even though the party languishes in third place in the legislature behind Premier Doug Ford’s governing Progressive Conservatives and Marit Stiles’ Official Opposition New Democrats.

Along with Crombie and Erskine-Smith, MP Yasir Naqvi (Ottawa Centre) and MPPs Ted Hsu (Kingston and the Islands) and Adil Shamji (Don Valley East) are seeking the Grit crown.

All five candidates are travelling around Ontario, enlisting new members before the Sept. 11 deadline to join (students in campus clubs have till Sept. 26).

Liberals will then cast ballots in person in the one-member-one-vote election in ridings across Ontario on Nov. 25 and 26 with the winner announced Dec. 2 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

Each candidate has paid a $100,000 entry fee plus a $25,000 refundable deposit.

They can spend up to $900,000, excluding the registration charge and party tithe.

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

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