Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may have only mentioned Ontario Premier Doug Ford by name once in a rally speech to Liberal candidates on Wednesday, but the specter of him was woven throughout his remarks criticizing conservative politicians promising to work “for the people.”
At a meeting of nominated Liberal candidates on Wednesday in Ottawa, Trudeau did not mention federal Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer by name but repeatedly referenced the cuts to services that the Progressive Conservative Ford has made during his first year in office.
He also appeared to encourage candidates to link the provincial and federal conservative leaders on the campaign trail.
“Conservative politicians love to say they’re ‘for the people,’ but we all know what happens when they’re in office,” he said.
“We’ve seen repeatedly just how far they’re willing to go to help the wealthiest few, how quickly they’ll make cuts to public health, cuts to municipalities, cuts to health care, cuts to childcare, cuts to education.”
“The middle class can’t afford another Doug Ford and it’s up to every single person in this room to make that case by sharing our positive, inclusive vision for the future.”
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Among the most controversial of the cuts made by the Ford government over the past year were cuts to the Ontario Autism Program that capped the amount of funding families could receive for children with autism to $20,000 for kids under the age of six and $5,000 each year after that until they reach the age of 18.
Parents and advocates for people with disabilities cried foul, warning that the funding wouldn’t come close to covering the costs needed to care for many children with autism, given therapies for severe forms can run up to $80,000 each year.
The PCs scrapped that plan last week after months of outcry and pledged to instead move towards a needs-based program.
Ford’s government also cut the funding to Legal Aid Ontario by 30 per cent, or $133 million. That program pays for legal support for those who can’t afford lawyers of their own and the cuts prompted a province-wide day of action on Tuesday with more than 40 events and rallies in protest.
The PCs have also introduced changes to the provincial education system that will increase average Ontario class sizes from 22 to 28 students in high schools and increase class sizes by roughly one additional student in elementary schools, not including kindergarten or Grade 1 through Grade 3.
All of those have prompted significant public criticism, with polls suggesting Ford has become the second-least popular premier in the country.
Liberal MPs and cabinet ministers have previously criticized the Ford cuts and Wednesday’s speech was not the first time Trudeau has taken aim at Ford’s policies.
Trudeau weighed in on the issue of class sizes during an armchair discussion with the Ontario Teachers’ Federation earlier this month.
“As a federal politician, even as prime minister, I’m not supposed to have too much of an opinion on provincial education policy,” he said.
“But I was a teacher and I’m also a parent with kids in the system, and I’m very, very worried about them suddenly showing up in September with a class size of 30 plus, less support for the special needs kids, and an environment that is generally hostile to teachers.”
Third-party attack ads during the NBA Finals also linked the two conservative leaders, saying that “Andrew Scheer will never stand up to Ford.”
A spokesperson for Scheer pushed back at the characterizations on Wednesday.
“Justin Trudeau’s record is one of failures, broken promises, higher taxes, and endless deficits that threaten the public services that Canadians depend on. Once again, Justin Trudeau’s poor judgement is hurting the very people he claims to help,” said Daniel Schow, press secretary for Scheer.
“Mr. Scheer’s vision is for a Canada where everybody can get ahead without the government making life more difficult. Part of that is balancing the budget so we can stop spending billions on debt interest and instead spend it on Canadians. “
There are roughly three months to go until the federal election on Oct. 21.
And with that, one expert said Canadians can likely expect to keep hearing similar messaging from the Liberals.
“Ford and Scheer are like gifts to Trudeau,” said Laura Stephenson, a professor of political science at Western University, in a recent interview with Global News.
“Trudeau couldn’t have asked for a better foil.”