The Ontario Liberals are preparing to launch their first ad blitz of the spring election campaign – and it is aimed squarely at rookie Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford.
The $1-million campaign is set to begin Monday on television, radio and online. With an election in June and Mr. Ford having assumed the Tory leadership only last month, the Liberals say most Ontarians don’t know very much about the former Toronto councillor’s politics. They say the ads are meant to reveal the “real Doug Ford.”
One of the spots, shown to reporters Friday, starts with ominous music. “There’s the Doug Ford you think you know, and then there is the real Doug Ford,” the narration says. The point of the ads, according to campaign co-chair Deb Matthews, is to show Ontarians how the province would change with Mr. Ford as premier.
Senior Liberal officials are looking to the election of U.S. President Donald Trump as they shape their campaign, citing similarities between Mr. Ford’s brand of populism and that of Mr. Trump. One thing they’ve learned from the U.S. election, they say, is to zero in on Mr. Ford’s policies, not his personality.
The first ad lists a number of Mr. Ford’s political positions and their expected impact, backed by references to media outlets. It says Mr. Ford will grant tax cuts to corporations, oppose minimum wage increases, restrict access to abortion services and cancel measures to mitigate climate change. Citing research by economist Mike Moffatt, the ad claims Mr. Ford would need to fire 40,000 people, including teachers and nurses, to balance the budget.
“The real Doug Ford, he’d be comfortable living in that kind of Ontario. Would you?” the 30-second spot concludes.
The campaign is a change of tack for the Liberals, who had been preparing to face former PC leader Patrick Brown, a more conventional politician who resigned in January over allegations of sexual impropriety.
Before Mr. Brown’s resignation, Liberal officials said their campaign would centre on Premier Kathleen Wynne. While Ms. Wynne is deeply unpopular, according to most opinion polls, they planned to showcase her as a tough and steady politician at a time of economic uncertainty. The campaign starting Monday makes no mention of her.
The Tories dismissed the negative ads as the sign of a tired Liberal Party that has spent 15 years in government. According to most polling, Mr. Ford’s party would win a commanding majority if an election were held today.
“The Liberals have taken so much from Ontario taxpayers that they have nothing left to offer other than fear and smear. We will keep campaigning for the people and against Kathleen Wynne’s 15-year record of waste, corruption, abuse and mismanagement,” said Melissa Lantsman, a spokeswoman for Mr. Ford’s campaign team.
A second ad campaign, called “Doug Said,” will focus on controversial statements Mr. Ford has made. The first spot looks at his comments after a home for autistic children was built in his area. “It ruined the community. My heart goes out to kids with autism, but no one told me they’d be leaving the house,” it quotes him saying.
“This is a stark choice, and at this moment he is winning,” said Ms. Matthews of Mr. Ford. “We need to make sure that people understand the consequences of that.”
Ms. Matthews is a former cabinet minister who served as one of Ms. Wynne’s most trusted lieutenants before announcing last year that she would not seek re-election. She will be running the Liberal campaign along with strategist David Herle.