‘Farmbelt’ and Doug Ford highlight second Liberal leadership debate

By Vrajesh Dave and John Marchesan

The future of the Ontario Liberal Party and how to beat Premier Doug Ford were among the high-priority items discussed at the second leadership debate in Stratford, Ont., on Sunday.

Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie, Liberal MPs Yasir Naqvi and Nate Erskine-Smith and MPP Ted Hsu all took part in the debate, which featured a strong focus on farming, climate change, infrastrucure, Indigenous issues and the province’s need for skilled labour.

With the Ford government’s Greenbelt scandal fresh in people’s minds, Naqvi proposed Ontario create a farmbelt when it comes to protecting agricultural land in the province.

“We have to protect our agriculture. That’s one of the thing’s I’m proposing is to create an Ontario farmbelt to build on the success of the Greenbelt,” the Ottawa Centre MP told the audience gathered at Stratford City Hall and online.

Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie was quick to jump on that idea, adding she would go even further by calling it a food and water belt.

Erskine-Smith said there is a need to protect agricultural lands from urban sprawl while Hsu cautioned against imposing another restriction on farmers.

Crombie was once again in the crosshairs as the perceived front-runner in the leadership race. While continuing to highlight her work as Mississauga mayor, Naqvi was quick to pounce on her resume.

“Mississauga is a great city. Thank you, Hazel McCallion,” he said of the city’s former longtime mayor which drew some light laughter and cheers but also a rebuke from Crombie.

“I don’t think this is necessary and for anyone who tuned in for attacks they may as well change the channel,” she countered.

When it came to who was best to take on Doug Ford, Crombie leveraged her experience as mayor saying she’s the only one who can go toe-to-toe with the Premier.

“I have fought directly against Doug Ford and I know I wrankle him …and I like that,” she said.

“Everyone should have an opportunity to succeed. That’s the promise of Ontario and Doug Ford has broken that promise,” said Naqvi in making his case.

“Competence is a really important value for delivering trust as well because it’s about delivering for people successfully. Now you can accuse Doug Ford of many things, you can not accuse him of being competent,” said Erskine-Smith, before adding: “We’ve got to give people a reason to vote for us, we can’t just be the ‘not Doug Ford’ party.”

The next debate is scheduled to take place Oct. 24 in Toronto.

More than 80,000 party members will cast their votes by ranked ballot on November 25 and 26, with the Liberals set to announce round-by-round results the following weekend and a new leader on Dec. 2.

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