Premier Kathleen Wynne has compared Ontario’s Opposition Leader to U.S. President Donald Trump and called him a liar and bully, signalling the harsh tone of the coming electoral campaign. The blistering attack came a day after Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford suggested that some members of the Liberal government belong in jail.
With Ms. Wynne facing a difficult re-election campaign against Mr. Ford, the level of personal attacks between the province’s leaders is already unusually high, weeks before an election campaign is officially under way.
“Doug Ford sounds like Donald Trump, and that’s because he is like Donald Trump. He believes in [an] ugly, vicious brand of politics that traffics in smears and lies. He’ll say anything about anyone at any time because just like Trump, it is all about him,” Ms. Wynne said on Wednesday morning.
She warned her comments would be the start of a “vicious” campaign. She said Mr. Ford’s comments echoed chants of “Lock her up” by Mr. Trump against his 2016 election rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton. “I guarantee you that it will get worse before it gets better,” Ms. Wynne added.
At issue is a statement Mr. Ford put out on Tuesday, when he said he’d call in an outside auditor to probe government spending if he won the June 7 election.
“If Kathleen Wynne tried to pull these kinds of shady tricks in private life, then there would be a few more Liberals joining David Livingston in jail,” Mr. Ford said in the statement. Mr. Livingston, a former top Liberal aide, was sentenced to four months in jail for his role in deleting e-mails after the cancellation of two gas-fired power plants.
After Ms. Wynne spoke, Tory MPP Lisa MacLeod backed her leader’s comments and said no one was making the connection to jailing Ms. Wynne other than the Liberal Leader. “The only person bringing up that notion is Kathleen Wynne herself,” Ms. MacLeod said. “She wants to make things up.”
Andrea Lawlor, a political science professor at the University of Western Ontario, said Ms. Wynne has now made it clear that she won’t be treating the Tory Leader as she has with past political opponents.
“She’s telling Ontarians that they should be looking out for Ford in a way that Americans should have watched out for Trump. She’s committed to the line that Ford isn’t just someone she doesn’t share political ideals with, but that he is someone whose character makes him unfit to be premier,” Dr. Lawlor said.
The PC Party’s international trade critic warned that Ms. Wynne’s use of the President’s name to criticize Mr. Ford could damage Canada’s trade relations with the United States and the renegotiation of the North American free-trade agreement.
“Just because Kathleen Wynne is suffering from some of the lowest polling numbers of all time, she shouldn’t be jeopardizing the economic future and stability of our province,” MPP Lisa Thompson said.
At a campaign event in Eastern Ontario on Wednesday, Mr. Ford dismissed the attack and said the Liberal Premier was running against a politician in a different country.
Tensions have been steadily increasing between Ms. Wynne and Mr. Ford before the official campaign launch, expected in early May. Mr. Ford has charged that Ms. Wynne has been using government events to campaign at taxpayer expense. On Monday, the Liberals unveiled a number of attack ads against Mr. Ford.
The personal attacks between Ms. Wynne and Mr. Ford have little precedent in Ontario’s politics, said Henry Jacek, a political science professor at McMaster University in Hamilton.
“I was waiting for this to happen. I was sure Doug was going to overplay his hand. It’s the big mistake the Liberals have been waiting for,” he said. “What everyone is going to hear are Wynne and jail. People will think he’s like Trump and can’t resist dirty attacks.”
He said Mr. Ford has shown that he’s sensitive to the comparisons to Mr. Trump. “People don’t want Trump as the premier of Ontario,” Dr. Jacek said.
Ms. Wynne said that unlike in the U.S. election, where Democrats vowed to face Mr. Trump’s comments with a more positive message, she wouldn’t follow what turned out to be a failing strategy.