Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s office has told his cabinet ministers not to campaign for federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, and to refrain from posting about interactions with federal candidates on social media, The Globe and Mail has learned.
The reason given to cabinet was that they have their plates full with their own files, and Mr. Ford’s team expects ministers will be too busy to get involved federally. The requests not to campaign for Mr. O’Toole or his candidates were described to The Globe by two sources with direct knowledge of the discussions. One of the sources said the message was also relayed to ministerial staff in a recent meeting. The Globe is not naming the sources because they were not authorized to discuss the internal deliberations.
Mr. Ford’s cabinet members are being told that if they attend a community event at the same time as any of Mr. O’Toole’s candidates, they are not to post any photographs or digital evidence to social media, according to one of the sources. The source said Mr. Ford and his team have no desire to enter the political fray over contentious issues such as vaccine passports.
Mr. O’Toole is running for re-election in the Ontario riding of Durham. The Greater Toronto Area, where Mr. Ford and much of his Progressive Conservative caucus hold seats, is considered a crucial battleground for the federal Conservatives if they are to win the election.
The edict is part of a broader effort to avoid a repeat of the 2019 federal election campaign, when it sometimes appeared that Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s main opponent was Mr. Ford, rather than then-conservative leader Andrew Scheer. Mr. Trudeau repeatedly invoked Mr. Ford’s unpopular spending cuts on the campaign trail. Mr. Scheer, meanwhile, adopted a strategy of never appearing with Ontario’s Premier, and almost never saying his name.
Mr. Ford does not want to be at the forefront of another federal election campaign, one of the sources said.
The Premier’s office did not directly answer questions about the provincial directive, but said Mr. Ford will work with whichever party forms government after the Sept. 20 election.
“Premier Ford wishes all candidates the best in their campaigns. With cases expected to continue to climb as we head into the fall – fuelled by the highly transmissible Delta variant – the Premier and our government are focused squarely on our response to the pandemic and getting as many Ontarians vaccinated as quickly as possible,” said Ivana Yelich, Mr. Ford’s executive director of media relations.
The decision to forbid provincial ministers from participating in the federal campaign reflects how much the political landscape has changed. In 2018 and 2019, Mr. Ford regularly launched attacks on the federal Liberal government. Ahead of the 2019 federal election, he ordered gas stations to post stickers at their pumps with messages opposing the federal carbon tax, a key Liberal policy.
In a statement, the federal Conservatives said the Premier is setting the right priorities mid-pandemic.
“We respect, understand and applaud Premier Ford’s decision to focus on fighting the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, rather than an election. Justin Trudeau should have done the same,” Conservative Party spokesperson Cory Hann said.
Mr. Ford and his top ministers have kept low profiles since Mr. Trudeau called an early election on Aug. 15. The Premier has not held a major news conference since July 30, and his office does not release his daily schedule or details of his meetings. His whereabouts is revealed mostly on his Twitter account.
At least one Progressive Conservative member of caucus, Barrie-Innisfil MPP Andrea Khanjin, has posted publicly in support of a local federal candidate. However, Ms. Khanjin is a parliamentary assistant, and not a member of cabinet.
Mr. Trudeau has mostly avoided directly referencing Mr. Ford during the campaign. On Monday, though, he mentioned the Premier’s name during an announcement in Hamilton. “There’s a lot of things Premier Ford and I don’t agree on,” he said.
The Liberal Leader has, by contrast, repeatedly criticized Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. During a campaign stop in Calgary last week, Mr. Trudeau targeted Mr. Kenney’s record on pandemic management and linked him to Mr. O’Toole.
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