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Doug Ford and his Progressive Conservatives spent part of their day Tuesday explaining why a local candidate hired actors to pose as Tory supporters outside the first leaders’ debate ahead of the Ontario election.

A group of people hoisting signs and wearing shirts with slogans supporting Ford cheered as the party leader arrived at the CityNews television studios for the debate held in downtown Toronto on Monday evening.

It later came to light that the crowd was made up of actors hired by a Toronto candidate – a move that was wrong, Ford’s spokeswoman said.

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“Doug Ford has attracted record crowds since entering the race for PC leader,” Melissa Lantsman said in a statement. “A local candidate made a decision to engage a casting agency. This was unnecessary and a mistake. It will not happen again.”

Ford said he didn’t know about the paid supporters when asked about the matter at a news conference.

“We don’t need to pay anyone. When we have events, we’re packed, we have standing room only,” he told reporters on Tuesday morning, adding that he would talk to Toronto-Centre candidate Meredith Cartwright about the situation.

Cartwright, who had shared posts on social media showing photos of the crowd outside the debate, said she had no comment when reached by phone on Tuesday.

The other parties were quick to pile on.

“We don’t have to pay people to come and support us, we have a very excited group of volunteers,” said NDP leader Andrea Horwath. “I think it’s kind of funny and in some ways kind of sad.”

Liberal campaign co-chair Deb Matthews laid into Ford.

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“I guess we’ve come to expect that everything about Ford is fake,” she said. “The stories are fake, his facts are fake and now we know his supporters are fake.”

Ontario heads to the polls June 7.

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