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Stay focused, Doug, you’re not running against Hydro One’s CEO

Ontario PC Party Leader Doug Ford takes to the stage as he holds a unity rally in Toronto on Monday, March 19, 2018. Chris Young / The Canadian Press

Doug Ford has been given an incredible gift by Kathleen Wynne. Why is he frittering some of it away?

I’m not referring to his lead in the polls, which is large, and thus far, reasonably steady. Nor is this about the repeated polls which show not only that Ontarians currently favour Ford to Premier Kathleen Wynne, but also that the province seems desperate for a change after nearly 15 years of Liberal government.

READ MORE: Ontario Liberal budget fails to woo voters as PCs gain double-digit lead, Ipsos poll says

I’m referring specifically to his spectacular luck to be running against a government hobbled by the unmitigated disaster of Ontario’s dysfunctional hydroelectricity sector. It hardly seems necessary to recap the sad story here; suffice it to say that the Liberals inherited an admittedly bad situation 15 years ago (years of deferred maintenance had left Ontario’s grid in grim shape) and proceeded to compound it with debacle after debacle. The net result is Ontarians paying brutal hydro rates, even after recent Liberal shenanigans to briefly lower the monthly bill, and a manufacturing sector increasingly leaving for lower-cost jurisdictions.

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It’s a disaster for the Liberals, and they know it (hence the shenanigans). And it got worse this week after David Livingston, former chief of staff to Wynne’s predecessor, Dalton McGuinty, was sentenced to jail time relating to his role in deleting government computer records concerning the infamous gas plants scandal.

READ MORE: Ex-McGuinty aide David Livingston sentenced to 4 months in jail for deleted gas plants emails

If you’re Doug Ford, it doesn’t get much better than this. He’s up against an unpopular government weighed down by a clusterfuddle of a policy disaster and he just got a great news hook — a senior Liberal going to jail, for heaven’s sake — to really beat ’em over the head with.

So he goes after some CEO no one has ever heard of?

Click to play video: 'Doug Ford vows to bring transparency back as Ontario Sunshine List released' Doug Ford vows to bring transparency back as Ontario Sunshine List released
Doug Ford vows to bring transparency back as Ontario Sunshine List released – Mar 23, 2018

WATCH ABOVE: Doug Ford vows to bring transparency back as Ontario Sunshine List released

It’s bizarre but true. On Thursday, Ford and Todd Smith, the Ontario PC energy critic, held a press event at which they … promised to fire the CEO of Hydro One, the provincial electrical distribution utility. The CEO, Mayo Schmidt, makes an astonishing amount of money — more than $6 million a year in salary and bonuses. (Ford quipped that he’s the Six Million Dollar Man. Cute.) This is indeed well beyond the norm for similar roles in other provinces. And it’s also true that it’s hard to argue that Ontarians are getting much value for money with that deal.

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READ MORE: Doug Ford takes aim at Hydro One, Sunshine List in first visit to London as Ontario PC leader

But … who cares? Ford isn’t running against Mayo Schmidt, a suit basically no Ontarians have heard of or could pick out of a lineup. They aren’t mad at Hydro One, they’re mad at the Liberals. If you’re Doug Ford, that’s a good thing. Why would you distract from that?

It’s baffling. Again, Ford has a pretty easy job here: the Liberals have made such a hash of Ontario’s hydro sector that not only are people up in arms over the insane price they pay for power, but also that one of their senior operatives just got sentenced to jail time because they were so scared of the disaster they tried to cover it up. (Livingston remains out on bail pending appeal.) You can hammer the Liberals on that, day in, day out, and there’s virtually no defence they can offer. Ford’s attacks have the virtue of being true.

READ MORE: Doug Ford’s plan to fire Hydro One CEO would cost at least $10.7M

So does Ford go after that … or pick a fight with some near-anonymous corporate type, pledging to fire him on day one if elected, which he doesn’t actually have the authority to do directly?

Remarkably, he picks the latter. He went for the suit.

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The reality is this: Schmidt is overpaid and Ontarians have a right to be angry about that, but every word Ford utters attacking the CEO is a wasted chance to hammer the person he’s actually running against: Kathleen Wynne. Schmidt executes the dysfunctional policy developed by the government of the day, and that government is Liberal. The public hates the policies, and Ford leads the opposition. There’s a winning play for Ford here, and it’s not even particularly hard to suss out: go after the Liberals’ record on hydro, hard, again and again. Keep at it until elected. The end.

READ MORE: Ontario’s top court upholds dismissal of Hydro One privatization lawsuit

Instead, he divides his fire by going after someone most people have never heard of. Ontarians don’t care about the unknown suits running Hydro One. They care about the woman who has overseen (as either a senior McGuinty minister or as premier herself) this massive hobbling of Ontario’s economy and the literal impoverishment of some vulnerable citizens. I’m not here to defend Schmidt, Ford can can him and the whole board after he’s elected, for all I care. But he has to get elected first, and he’s not running against Hydro One.

Stay focused, Doug. Don’t make this harder than it has to be.

Matt Gurney is host of The Exchange with Matt Gurney on Global News Radio 640 Toronto and a columnist for Global News.

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