Two months into her province-wide campaign for the Liberal leadership, Bonnie Crombie still won’t say when she plans to step away from the mayor’s seat
Pictures on social media of Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie in places like Timmins, Ottawa, Sarnia and Thunder Bay are a drastic change of scenery for a mayor who, in years past, has spent the warmest months of the year, deeply entrenched in the numerous arts, culture and community-building events that Mississauga hosts on an annual basis. But this is not a typical summer for Crombie.
These blistering hot days of summer and the colourful months of fall that lay ahead will define her political future as she pushes ahead with her bid to become the next leader of the Ontario Liberal Party. The attempt to climb the political ladder leaves her precious suburban city in a precarious position as it grapples with significant growth, a looming budget process and the ongoing effort to break Mississauga away from the Region of Peel with a leader whose attention is split by competing priorities.
Since announcing her bid for leadership on June 14, Crombie has held over 40 meet and greet events across the province, according to her Eventbrite page, with at least nine more scheduled between now and Saturday. Theses events have been scheduled at all times throughout the day and work week, contrary to Crombie’s claim during her campaign launch that she would only be focusing on her Liberal leadership bid on evenings and weekends.
The Pointer asked Crombie if she has an updated timeline for when she plans to step away from her position as the Mayor of Mississauga to allow the City to prepare in the event of her departure. In an emailed response, Crombie stated “I take my responsibilities as Mayor seriously and I have been able to balance my commitment to the residents of my city with the work necessary to connect with people across Ontario.”
She did not address any schedule for her departure.
As the city navigates its split from the Region of Peel, and moves forward with some of the largest development projects in its history, like the Hurontario LRT; a multi-billion dollar expansion and redevelopment of the Mississauga Hospital; along with pressures of the PC government’s ambitious Bill 23 and the recent Minister’s Zoning Order for the Lakeview Village development; all while budget season waits around the corner; Mississauga needs a sure and stable leader to guide it through a pivotal time in the City’s history. Crombie’s attention is clearly divided, but she’s not ready to say goodbye to her role as Mississauga’s leader, leaving the City in a holding pattern.
A possible byelection cannot be planned until Crombie makes a decision about stepping aside, but Mississauga’s mayor has remained determined to juggle the responsibilities of her mayoral role and provincial Liberal leadership run.
Since officially announcing her bid for leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party in June, some Mississauga councillors have said a byelection would be the most appropriate method to replace Crombie should she win the Liberal leadership (the results of a late-November vote will be announced in December).
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie is showing no signs of stepping aside from her mayoral seat as she campaigns for leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
Should the Mayor step away ahead of the December vote, a City spokesperson explained that “if a vacancy occurs in the office of the head of council, Council has 60 days after the vacancy is declared to pass a bylaw requiring a byelection be held to fill the vacancy.
“During the period between a seat becoming vacant and a new person being permanently sworn in as Head of Council/Mayor through a byelection, members of Council can serve as Acting Mayor/Head of Council on a rotating basis,” the spokesperson added. “The rotation cannot continue indefinitely.”
The City’s current rotation would see Councillor Alvin Tedjo as acting mayor for August/September and then councillors Fonseca and John Kovac would fill in for the remainder of the year, should Crombie decide to step aside. It will be up to councillors to decide how they want to proceed, but with Crombie choosing not to divulge any plans about stepping aside from her mayoral duties at City hall, councillors have been left with little direction at this time.
Tedjo told The Pointer Crombie hasn’t confirmed any plans with City Council yet, but that those conversations will likely be coming in the fall when council reconvenes. As the current acting mayor, Tedjo said he and councillors can cover events if necessary, but asserted Crombie is “still the CEO of the city, and she's still advocating for the city when appropriate.”
“I don't think we're in an unstable time. I think there is stability at the city,” he added. “I know the mayor is still engaged with her staff on a daily basis so I don't see any serious disruptions as of yet. That may change once we hit the fall and I would expect the mayor to revisit that and follow through on her commitment if it is getting too much with the campaign that she would make the right decision.”
With several future-defining projects coming to Mississauga, the city needs a dedicated leader to guide it into the future.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
Councillor Carolyn Parrish has been open about her concerns that Crombie’s leadership could not only impact the city at a critical time due to her being pulled in multiple directions, but could hurt Mississauga beyond that with Crombie looking to become the Liberal challenger to Premier Doug Ford in the next provincial election.
“It is only natural that Mayor Crombie is going to have to put on a full-court-partisan-press to demonstrate leadership for the position to which she aspires. It will by its nature be a source of friction with the current Provincial Government. I hope it has no bearing on the separation from the Region, but [I am] not optimistic that it won’t,” she told The Pointer.
Repeated examples of this have already been seen, most recently with Crombie’s statements about Premier Ford and the PCs following the release of the auditor general’s report into the Greenbelt scandal, after which she said Ford “can’t be trusted”.
Similar to Tedjo, Parrish told The Pointer that Crombie has yet to share her plans for the fall with council, but is optimistic a suitable plan will be finalized.
“I’m sure the Mayor and Council will engage in a full discussion upon our return to regular Council meetings after Labour Day. This is a particularly significant time both in the Mayor’s career and in the City’s journey to an independent city. Both issues have to be weighed carefully. Until a discussion takes place with Council as a whole I can’t presume we are facing a ‘lack of stability’ just yet,” Parrish wrote.
Parrish has previously asserted the city needs a “full time”, “committed” mayor to lead it through the transformation into an independent municipality once Peel Region is dissolved, stating the “mayor cannot wear two hats much longer,” and should take a leave immediately. Parrish noted there should be a “fully democratic” byelection to allow residents to choose who will lead the city.
Given the city’s size, the importance of the role and the timing with three years in the council term remaining, Tedjo previously told The Pointer he would prefer to see council replace the mayor through a byelection, noting he would want to ensure the “conversation is as transparent as possible.” The byelection, he noted, would need to be scheduled in a reasonable timeframe to give staff ample opportunity to execute the process.
Councillor Joe Horneck also agreed the decision to select a new mayor should be done through a byelection, noting that with more than three years left in the term, “An appointment would be inappropriate with the length of the mandate remaining.” He added that if Crombie were to resign, he believed council “would be mandated to have a public discussion on how to deal with the vacancy.”
If Crombie chooses to hold on to her role in the mayoral seat until the Liberal leadership decision in December, Mississauga would be looking at a byelection around early June in 2024.
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