Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says the Prime Minister was wrong to spend the election campaign “demonizing” Doug Ford, even as some provincial Conservatives grumble that the federal Tory campaign should not have left the Ontario Premier on the sidelines.
“Justin Trudeau should consider the fact that he just spent the last 40 days personally attacking and demonizing the Premier of Ontario. And now we have a country that is more divided than ever,” Mr. Scheer told reporters on Tuesday.
Mr. Scheer’s party failed to make the breakthrough it was hoping for in the province, especially in the seat-rich suburban belt around Toronto known by its telephone area code, the 905. The result has led to a debate in Conservative circles over whether Mr. Ford hindered Mr. Scheer, or could have helped him.
Mr. Trudeau did repeatedly invoke Mr. Ford’s unpopular spending cuts on the campaign trail. However, Mr. Scheer adopted a strategy of never appearing with Ontario’s Premier and almost never saying his name, for fear of damaging his own chances in the province.
One Conservative source said Tuesday that the Scheer campaign was shocked by its poor results in Ontario.
Some Ontario Progressive Conservatives and federal Conservatives say the Scheer team was wrong to leave Mr. Ford on the sidelines, and insist that the loss to a scandal-plagued Mr. Trudeau cannot be blamed on the Premier. The Globe and Mail is keeping their names confidential because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
The federal campaign was hearing concerns from candidates at the door about Mr. Ford. But a senior Conservative source said those reports had largely died down by September, after Mr. Ford withdrew some of his cutbacks and shuffled his cabinet. The Globe is keeping the source’s name confidential because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.
Mr. Ford also put the legislature on a five-month break and generally stayed out of public view. Still, his name continued to be associated with the federal leader in the minds of some Ontario voters.
Conservative strategist Kory Teneycke, who was Mr. Ford’s campaign manager in the 2018 provincial election, said he doesn’t believe the provincial party was a factor in the Tories’ election loss. Mr. Ford swept the 905 and even won 11 seats in Toronto itself when he captured his majority last year.
“Among Conservative and potential Conservative voters, Doug Ford is demonstrably more popular [than Mr. Scheer]," Mr. Teneycke said.
“That’s pretty conclusive evidence that Doug Ford has the biggest ability to reach out and be successful politically in the province of Ontario."
While he praised the campaign for successfully holding Mr. Trudeau to a minority, he pointed to issues that plagued Mr. Scheer during the election, such as his positions on abortion and same-sex marriage, as well as his dual Canada-U.S. citizenship and questions about the accuracy of his résumé.
Mr. Scheer’s party won 33.2 per cent of the popular vote in Ontario Monday night, trailing the federal Liberals, who won 41.5 per cent. The Conservatives ended up with 36 seats in the province, were shut out of Toronto and took only a few seats in its suburbs.
In his June, 2018, election, Mr. Ford won 40.5 per cent of the popular vote in Ontario, enough for a majority government with 76 of the 124 seats at Queen’s Park. But he was facing an unpopular incumbent Liberal premier in Kathleen Wynne, whose party had been in power for 15 years.
Myer Siemiatycki, a professor emeritus of politics at Ryerson University who has watched Toronto-area politics for decades, said he believed the “Ford factor” harmed Mr. Scheer’s chances. Dr. Siemiatychi noted that not a single federal seat in the inner Toronto suburbs, where the Premier draws his core supporters, went blue.
“The fact that the Conservatives couldn’t take a single seat in Etobicoke or Scarborough, the biggest strongholds of Ford Nation, that tells me Ford was not going to be an advantage to Scheer,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ontario’s Premier appeared to be setting a new tone with the now re-elected Prime Minister, while his office signalled that his province’s court challenge of Mr. Trudeau’s carbon tax was up for discussion.
That topic, however, did not come up in a phone call between Mr. Ford and Mr. Trudeau on Tuesday, in what was described by the Premier’s team as a “positive and constructive conversation.” But the pair discussed the province’s Ontario Line subway expansion and pledged to meet in person, the Premier’s office said.
Mr. Ford had said in August that the federal carbon tax will ultimately be decided at the ballot box, not by the courts, and said he would consult with his cabinet in the event of a Liberal re-election. On Tuesday, his office said the matter remains under discussion, as reports came that New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs was backing down on his province’s opposition to the carbon tax.
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