Ontario premiers past and present become political targets in federal campaign

While Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has faced questions over whether he’s deliberately avoiding Doug Ford, the Ontario premier was front and centre at the federal Liberal leader’s campaign stop in Hamilton on Monday morning.

The Progessive Conservative premier wasn’t there physically, but he was thrust into the spotlight by Justin Trudeau, who made 14 references to Ford by name — twice in French — as he spoke about his proposed national pharmacare program.

What does Ford have to do with such a program? As Trudeau reasoned, if re-elected, the Liberal government will have to negotiate with the provinces to implement such a plan and only he can be counted on to negotiate with Ford.

On several occasions during his announcement and subsequent news conference, Trudeau managed to weave in the same talking point: Who do you want negotiating with Doug Ford when it comes to your health?

Certainly not Scheer, according to Trudeau, who suggested the Conservative leader is a clone of the premier and would follow a path similar to Ford’s, with austerity measures that would hurt people.

Trudeau’s tactic, to link Scheer to the Ontario premier, whose cuts to services have sparked a backlash among voters and led to a precipitous decline in popularity, is one he’s used repeatedly — although the number of “Doug Ford” references on Monday was unusually high.

So far, Scheer hasn’t been seen in public with the premier during his federal campaign tours of Ontario, which included a stop last week at Tory candidate Ted Opitz’s campaign office, just blocks away from Ford’s Etobicoke home.

Scheer has rejected any suggestion that this is deliberate. Meanwhile, Ford himself has said he’s too busy governing and doesn’t want to get involved in the federal election.

“I’m going to continue focusing on the province,” Ford told CBC News Monday.

But the Conservatives also believe that associating a rival with an unpopular politician can work to their advantage. That’s why Scheer has been trying to tie Trudeau to former premier Kathleen Wynne, who suffered a crushing defeat to Ford in the provincial election last year.

Scheer, who was in Vaughan, Ont., today to announce policies he says will help first-time homebuyers, didn’t invoke Wynne’s name during his announcement, unlike Trudeau who mentioned Ford four times before he took any questions from reporters.

But when given the opportunity, Scheer blasted the former premier, along with her predecessor Dalton McGuinty.

“The architects of the failed Kathleen Wynne/Dalton McGuinty government that raised taxes, ran massive deficits, mired in scandal and corruptions are now working for Justin Trudeau and they’re following the same playbook,” Scheer said.

“I think it’s important for people in Ontario to know that Justin Trudeau will follow the exact and has been following the exact same playbook that Kathleen Wynne and Dalton McGuinty ran here in Ontario,” Scheer said.

“Voters here understand what happens when you let Liberals continue their corrupt ways, continue to run massive deficits, continue to break their promises and lie to the people they are elected to serve.”

And just recently, the Conservatives launched an anti-Wynne ad. It shows the Toronto skyline under ominous dark clouds, as the announcer claims the Wynne government “plowed Ontario deeper into debt” drove up the costs of gas and hydro and that “Justin Trudeau will do to Canada what Kathleen Wynne did to Ontario.”

Trudeau and Scheer, it seems, hope they can move votes by reminding Ontario voters what they dislike about these leaders, current and former. Because it’s here in this vote-rich province and in several Greater Toronto Area ridings where the election could be won or lost and it’s why both leaders have made several stops here in the first couple weeks of the campaign.

Scheer was in Vaughan, and the King-Vaughan riding is a main target for the Conservatives. It was won by the Liberals in 2015 in a close race and the Tories believe they have a good chance of swinging it back.

Meanwhile, Trudeau’s Hamilton stop sought to drum up support in a riding the party is determined to keep. Hamilton East-Stoney Creek is  a riding with a significant labour base and one that had been in the NDP fold, until former Hamilton mayor Bob Bratina took it for the Liberals in 2015.

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