Kathleen Wynne plays the Trump card

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne took the low road with a personal attack on Doug Ford. Tasha Kheiriddin says that was a mistake. Kevin Van Paassen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

With the Ontario election 50 days away, and the provincial Liberals trailing badly in the polls, Premier Kathleen Wynne did the inevitable: she played the Trump card.  While making a health care announcement at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, the Liberal Premier compared PC leader Doug Ford to the US President. “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.”

In case anyone missed her point, Wynne continued — for three long minutes. “Just like Trump, it’s all about him. … That’s how Trump campaigned in 2016 and that’s how Ford is campaigning right now.” Wynne went on to advise that “just like Donald Trump, there’s only one way to deal with this kind of behaviour. You have to stand up to him, and you have to name the behaviour for what it is, because that is how you deal with a bully.”

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Click to play video: 'Kathleen Wynne calls Doug Ford a bully, directly compares PC leader to Donald Trump'
Kathleen Wynne calls Doug Ford a bully, directly compares PC leader to Donald Trump

WATCH ABOVE: Kathleen Wynne calls Doug Ford a bully, directly compares PC leader to Donald Trump

Ford’s response to this dramatic diatribe was predictable. At a campaign event in Cobourg, he chuckled, shook his head and said “Desperate, desperate … Kathleen Wynne, she can fight an election in another country. I am focusing in on the people of Ontario. … I’m focusing on jobs in Ontario.”

Bam. For once, Ford wasn’t the one shooting from the lip. Not like in 2014, when he infamously told the staff of a group home for autistic teens, “You’ve ruined the community. … My heart goes out to kids with autism. But no one told me they’d be leaving the house.

When confronted with these comments in the current provincial campaign, Ford denied making them, retorting that, “You’re going to hear a lot of lies, desperate lies from Kathleen Wynne.

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This served as one of the inspirations for Wynne’s Trump comparison.  “We saw it this week when Doug lied — flat out lied — about his appalling comments about families living with autism, lacking the courage to admit the truth and own up to his own words. He took the coward’s way out and he denied the undeniable.

News flash: politicians lie. And that includes Kathleen Wynne. Ontarians remember when she coined the term “stretch goal” –  a euphemism for lying about reducing auto insurance premiums in 2016. Then there were the multiple promises her party did not keep, on everything from taxes (they have gone up), to deficits (they’re back), to hydro bills (they will go up again in a few years, after the government trumpeted their short-term reduction). In most voters’ books, these are lies as well.

Wynne likely thought that by comparing Ford to Trump, she would help consolidate the left of centre vote behind the Liberals. What better way to do it than convince progressives that they risk turning Queen’s Park into Trump Tower if they don’t get behind one candidate – i.e., her?

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But the flaw in this thinking is twofold. First, the Liberals are not polling that far ahead of the NDP, making NDP leader Andrea Horwath potentially an equally attractive anti-Ford option. Second, NDP voters aren’t necessarily Liberal switchers; outside the GTA, in rural and exurban Ontario, many could just as easily swing PC on a populist wave of change.

Instead of fighting that wave, Wynne needs to figure out her own way to surf it. It wouldn’t be impossible: most of her policies are geared to lower and middle income voters. She herself is not “elite” — unlike Ford, she was not born into a wealthy family, and worked her way up from school trustee to premier. Instead of criticizing Ford for bashing elites like The Donald, she should emphasize her positive message of helping less fortunate Ontarians.

The desire for change isn’t an insurmountable obstacle either. Back in 2010, 76 per cent of voters said they wanted change as well — yet Wynne’s predecessor, Dalton McGuinty, eked out a minority in the 2011 vote.  Instead of opining that “[Ford] may be Donald Trump, but I’m not Hillary Clinton” — an association voters are now sure to make — she should acknowledge that she’s behind and identify with underdogs who actually pulled off a victory.

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And finally, there’s the “give them rope” strategy. It worked in 2008, when PC leader John Tory’s pledge to fund all religious schools backfired in spectacular fashion. It worked again in 2014, when Tory’s successor Tim Hudak promised to axe 100,000 public sector jobs, handing Wynne an unexpected majority, at a time when most pollsters thought her government was past its best-before date. With Ford’s history as a loose cannon, Wynne should have followed the same strategy — be patient and let himself shoot himself in the foot. With less than 50 days to go, there would probably be ample opportunity.

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Instead, Wynne chose the low road of personal attacks, casting herself as the victim of bullying and etching in everyone’s mind a replay of the 2016 U.S. contest. The only winner here — apart from Ford — are the political cartoonists. Let the memes begin.

Tasha Kheiriddin can be heard between noon and 2 p.m. ET on Global News Radio 640 Toronto. She’s also a columnist with Global News and, where this piece first appeared.

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