Liberals call Ford’s ‘interlaying’ with federal Conservatives ‘unprecedented,’ but say they’re not worried

By Abbas Rana and Laura Ryckewaert

Pollster Nik Nanos says Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s support is ‘very important’ to Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives, but also says Mr. Scheer has to ensure his personal brand is not ‘subsumed by Doug Ford.’

The extent of Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s public posturing against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and declaration that he wants to see Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer as Canada’s prime minister in 2019 is unprecedented and the rationale behind the strategy is unclear, say Liberal MPs, but Conservatives says Kathleen Wynne used the same strategy as premier and some of her former top staffers now hold the most senior positions in the federal government.

“I can’t think of a time where there’s been interlaying between the provincial and federal politicians in terms of working together,” said Liberal MP Mark Gerretsen (Kingston and the Islands, Ont.) in an interview with The Hill Times. “I quite honestly don’t understand Mr. Ford’s rationale behind that.”

Mr. Ford and Mr. Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) have been publicly exchanging verbal salvos since the former was elected as the Ontario PC leader last year, and even more so since he became premier in June with a landslide majority, ousting Ms. Wynne, and ending the 15-year Liberal control of the vote-rich province, which is home to 121 of the 338 federal electoral seats.

In one of the first exchanges after becoming premier, Mr. Ford accused Mr. Trudeau of encouraging asylum seekers to “illegally” enter into Canada, putting an additional financial burden on the province to house these people. He described Mr. Trudeau’s tweet last year, in which the prime minister said, “To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith,” as the key reason why thousands of refugees have crossed into Canada from the U.S. in recent months. The provincial government then proceeded to ask the federal government to cough up $200-million to defray the cost to help settle thousands of refugees in Ontario.

In a July meeting with the premier at Queen’s Park, Mr. Trudeau responded by saying that Mr. Ford did not fully comprehend Canada’s refugee system and was not “aware of our international obligations to the UN convention on refugees as he might have been, so I spent a little bit of time explaining how the asylum system works and how our system is supposed to operate.”

More recently, Mr. Ford has described the federal government’s carbon tax as a “vote-buying scheme” and has publicly made numerous statements opposing this policy. In response, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc (Beausejour, N.B.) has advised the premier to focus on Ontario and not meddle in federal political issues. Last month, Mr. Ford declined to meet with the federal minister due to “scheduling constraints.”

And after Ford government’s announcement to cancel a planned French-language university and scrap the office of the French-language services commissioner, Mr. Trudeau told reporters he was disappointed with the decision. Last week, reporters asked Mr. Ford if he was planning on running for prime minister, after he called on the federal government to scrap the carbon tax, but the premier denied that he had any such ambition.

In recent weeks, the federal Liberals have been using Mr. Ford’s public statements, expressing his desire “to get rid of Trudeau,” along with the Conservative opposition to carbon tax to raise funds.

“Yesterday, Andrew Scheer travelled to meet Doug Ford at Queen’s Park—and they couldn’t have been more clear about their priorities,” read one fundraising letter from the Liberal Party to supporters. “‘Getting rid of Justin Trudeau,’” Ford said after the meeting. We’re not surprised. Conservatives have no plan to fight climate change, and instead they’re doubling down on the same inaction that we saw under 10 years of Stephen Harper. They want to take money out of the pockets of middle class Canadians and make pollution free again—but with your support, we won’t let that happen.”

Meanwhile, Liberal MPs interviewed by The Hill Times last week conceded that it’s not unusual for provincial premiers to help out their federal cousins, but they said they were referring to the degree of Mr. Ford’s involvement in federal politics. They described the Ontario premier’s strategy as an attempt to “disrupt” the government’s agenda, referring to Mr. Ford’s opposition to the carbon tax, and disagreed that Ms. Wynne used to do the same when she was in office and Mr. Harper was the prime minister.

“The difference is that his [Mr. Ford’s] position in the way that he’s going about it, is a much more controversial, spiteful things that he’s doing to influence rather than talking to people and being supportive,” said Mr. Gerretsen. “He’s actually out there trying to disrupt the agenda of the federal government.”

However, Mr. Gerretsen and other Liberal MPs said Mr. Ford’s forays into the federal political arena are unlikely to affect their party in 2019.

“I don’t think it’s effective outside of the base that he supports, and I certainly don’t think it’s effective in properly representing the people of Ontario,” said Mr. Gerretsen adding that, as premier, Mr. Ford should be willing to work with any prime minister Canadians elect.

Liberal MPs also said they’re not worried either about the work of Ontario Proud, a Conservative online advocacy group, which is seen by some as having been instrumental in helping Mr. Ford win the June provincial election. The same organization, led by Jeff Ballingall, a former Conservative staffer during the Stephen Harper government, is working to defeat the federal Liberals.

In the provincial election, according to Mr. Ballingall, his organization’s content was viewed 63.4 million times on Facebook, and tweets were viewed 2.1 million times. He said that to defeat the provincial Liberals, his organization sent out more than one million text messages, made 2.5 million phone calls, and 15,000 brochures were distributed at transit stations. He said that his advocacy group played a big part in defeating the provincial Liberals.


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