April 18, 2018 1:19 pm

COMMENTARY: Kathleen Wynne drags Donald Trump into Ontario politics

Kathleen Wynne, the premier of Ontario, just attacked her political rival by comparing him, in vividly negative terms, to Donald Trump. That's not good for Ontario, Matt Gurney says.

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The premier of Ontario has identified her enemy. Strangely, it’s the president of the United States of America.

At a press conference on Wednesday morning at Toronto’s Sunnybrook hospital, an event that was theoretically to announce another billion dollars for health-care spending, Kathleen Wynne took aim at Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford … and Donald Trump.

READ MORE: Kathleen Wynne accuses Doug Ford of acting like Donald Trump


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The premier, who lags well behind Ford in all current polling, has been trying to turn her fortunes around by promising voters … hmm … I was going to say promising voters a “boatload” of pre-election spending goodies, but I’m not sure that quite does it justice. We’re up to multiple boats. A veritable convoy, at this point.

It hasn’t worked. Despite all the money being promised, and all the programs, the Liberals are not making up any ground in the polls. The PCs remain way, way ahead.

COMMENTARY: Ontario’s government sure is spending a ton of money on ‘free’ stuff

So the Premier has decided to try something else.

“Doug Ford sounds like Donald Trump,” the premier said, “and that’s because he’s 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’s all about him.”

She went on in that vein for a bit, but you get the point. The premier of Ontario just attacked her political rival by comparing him, in vividly negative terms, to Donald Trump.

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I’m not going to invest much time and energy parsing the comparison, or assessing its accuracy. Suffice it to say that I see some similarities between Ford and Trump, at least in their style of politics. Both seek a combative relationship with the media, both exaggerate their accomplishments and struggle with the truth, both are incredibly sensitive to criticism, both are easily provoked. If someone were to raise that in a conversation with me, I’d grant the point. I think comparisons between Trump and Ford are usually massively overdone, but there are some similarities. And if Ford would quit hinting he’d like to lock Wynne up, that would be good, too.

But here’s the thing: it’s one thing for people to have a conversation like that over a few beers, or even on a political panel or in an op-ed. It’s another thing for Wynne, who is the premier of the largest province in the Canadian federation, who speaks for almost 14 million Ontarians, to drag a foreign leader into our politics.

READ MORE: Ontario PC Party says it would order outside audit of government spending if elected

Ontarians will go to the polls in less than two months. We have three options to choose from, and serious issues to tackle. None of them involve the American Commander in Chief. There is no real value in dragging Trump into our politics, and plenty of risk: Americans have the Internet, too. There’s a very real chance that the premier’s comments will get picked up south of the border. Fox News opinion hosts could probably hang a segment or two off of them, for instance. If Premier Wynne is re-elected, and one day needs to go to Washington to try and get some of Ontarians’ concerns on a matter of trade or the environment heard, she might find it hard to be heard by many Republicans. And maybe even some Democrats who didn’t like a foreigner taking pot shots at the President of the Republic.

Canadians have strong views on Trump. I’m one of them. He’s unfit for office and I will celebrate the day he’s no longer president. But I’m also a voter in Ontario. I care about local issues, and I want my politicians to address them. That’s the kind of campaign I want.

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

Or, at the very least, if the premier of Ontario feels like she has to go negative — and with her poll numbers this bad, she probably does — then go negative on Doug Ford himself. It wouldn’t be hard. Ford is controversial. He puts his foot in his mouth. His party doesn’t have a platform right now. There is an absolute ton of stuff the premier can hit him with that has nothing to do with the United States and its own bitterly divided politics.

Going after Trump when she could go after Ford is desperate. It’s ugly. It could harm our relationship with Ontario’s largest trading partner — 49 per cent of Ontario’s GDP relies directly on trade with the United States. And, best of all, it’s hypocritical. The premier’s own words say so.

“[Ford] will say anything about anyone at any time because just like Trump, it is all about him,” the premier lamented. That’s interesting. Because with those comments, the Ontario premier didn’t just take aim at her actual opponent, but at the man that the citizens of our largest trading partner and closest ally chose, through an admittedly weird process, to be their leader.

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Donald Trump is not a good man, but he is the president of the United States. The U.S. is our ally and our friend and, bluntly, we need them. That very much includes Ontario.

Taking aim at him to bolster a struggling re-election campaign isn’t just bizarre and desperate — it’s both of those things, but it’s more than that. It’s selfish. It risks damaging the trading relationship that millions of Ontarians depend on to make a living. It’s gas plants redux: the Ontario Liberals are putting their own re-election ahead of the needs of the province.

In other words, the premier is making it all about her. Just like she’s accusing Ford, and Trump, of doing.

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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