TORONTO – Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer shrugged off suggestions Tuesday that Ontario’s premier was overshadowing him on matters of importance to the national Conservative cause, saying they simply shared common goals.
Scheer faced pointed questions about Doug Ford‘s political influence after meeting with the Progressive Conservative premier at Ontario’s legislature, where the pair discussed issues including their opposition to the federal Liberal carbon pricing plan.
Ford has been a strong critic of the tax, launching a court challenge against it and raising his opposition to it during recent trips to meet with Conservative political leaders in Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Scheer, when asked whose brand was stronger, said he and Ford were both working toward improving life for Canadians.
“The issue here is who’s on the right side of the people of Ontario and the right side of Canadians,” Scheer said. “The brand I’m closely associated with is the brand of lowering costs for Canadians, making life more affordable and standing up to new taxes.”
Scheer dismissed suggestions that Ford was trying to replace him as the face of the federal Conservatives, noting that he had recently travelled to many of the same places the Ontario premier had been to.
“I was just in Nova Scotia at the provincial PC leadership there, I’ll be here in Ontario for the PC (convention),” he said. “I’ve been in Alberta for their PC leadership. There’s great co-operation between the provincial and federal parties when we have interests (and) common ground.”
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In Ottawa, however, the federal minister of intergovernmental affairs suggested Ford had significant influence over Scheer.
“The Leader of the Opposition is at Queen’s Park today getting his marching orders from Doug Ford on Stephen Harper’s failed plan to deal with climate change,” Dominic LeBlanc said during Question Period. “Canadians expect better from the leader of the Conservative Party.”
Ford, for his part, endorsed Scheer earlier on Tuesday, calling him Canada’s next prime minister in a social media message. He also told reporters the only way to get rid of the federal carbon tax was to defeat the prime minister in next year’s federal election.
“If you get rid of Justin Trudeau you’re going to have more money in your pocket,” Ford said.
“Businesses are going to be able to thrive.”
Meanwhile, opposition legislators in Ontario said Ford has been campaigning on behalf of Scheer instead of focusing on the work of his provincial government.
“The Premier and his caucus have been trying to do Andrew Scheer’s work for him,” said interim Liberal leader John Fraser.
“So, it’s not surprising that Andrew would be here to say thank you.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Ford’s attention to federal Conservative causes meant less time dealing with issues of importance to Ontario.
Wilfrid Laurier University political science professor Barry Kay said Ford is behaving as if he has ambitions beyond being Ontario’s premier, but that would be down the road, after the next federal election.
“Ford is very much trying to present himself as a national figure,” he said. “Scheer and Ford have very different styles. Ford is much more hard-edged … Scheer on the other hand, whatever currency that he has politically is that he’s likable.”
Kay said Ford could prove to be an asset for Scheer in the run up to the next federal vote where the Conservatives will need to take seats from the Liberals in order to win or hold them to a minority government.
“Scheer is just recognizing that Ontario is critical to the next election,” he said. “He’s using whatever help he can.”