June 25, 2019 9:29 am

Bill Kelly: ‘Ford Factor’ looms large in fall federal election

Amid the June 20 cabinet shuffle, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said while the province's autism file isn't the "largest," it is the most sensitive. Lisa MacLeod, responsible for the controversial autism funding changes, was appointed as the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport on Thursday.

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A year ago, Doug Ford was the superstar of Conservatives from coast to coast.

He had just put Ontario back under the Conservative banner for the first time in over 15 years, and it was no secret that federal Conservatives hoped that Ford’s victory would translate into strong Tory support in vote-rich Ontario in this year’s federal election.

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Andrew Scheer, and other prominent Conservatives, couldn’t get enough photo-ops with the new Ontario premier.

The “Ford Factor,” they thought, would be a huge influence for Ontario voters.

But, what a difference a year makes!

READ MORE: Can Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives steer around Doug Ford?

Ford’s PCs are wallowing in dramatically low approval ratings and Ford’s personal approval rating is even below that of his much-maligned predecessor, Kathleen Wynne.

It’s a safe bet that hard-core Conservatives will stick with Ford through thick and thin, but there was a large block of swing voters and disenchanted Liberal supporters who took a chance on Ford last year, and the polling numbers suggest that many of them are having buyer’s remorse about their choice.

WATCH BELOW: Doug Ford shakes up cabinet amid controversies

Cuts to health care and education, the bungled autism funding, and Ford’s hollow promise that not one person would lose a job in his austerity purge have clearly angered Ontario voters.

That’s bad news for Scheer because unhappy voters don’t usually make a distinction between federal and provincial political parties when they want to vent their anger.

We’ve already seen the impact of that dynamic with some of the unflattering third-party political ads that link Scheer and Ford as two of a kind.

Those ads are clearly directed at disgruntled voters who are upset with how Ford is governing, with the insinuation that a federal Conservative government would follow the same draconian path.

READ MORE: Ads during NBA Finals show competing takes on Andrew Scheer

Time will tell if those ads will have any impact with Ontario voters, but I would think that the larger concern for Conservative strategists is with Ford himself.

Low approval ratings and that picture of the premier being lustily booed by the massive crowd at the Raptors victory rally have certainly tarnished the Conservative brand, and with an election in just a few months, branding and voter perception are key factors.

It’s probably no coincidence that the Ontario legislature won’t resume sitting until the week after the federal election.

Scheer’s team deny that they asked for the extended break, but you can bet that given Ford’s fall from grace, the less time that Ford is making headlines or rolling out unpopular policies, the better the Conservative chances in October.

The Ford factor, which they thought was a great asset, has now become a troubling liability.

Bill Kelly is the host of the Bill Kelly Show on Global News Radio 900 CHML.

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