Federal Conservatives focus on boosting party’s message to counter ‘Ford factor’ in Ontario

Federal Election 2019: Scheer faces the Doug Ford factor in Ontario
ABOVE: Scheer faces the Doug Ford factor in Ontario

Premier Doug Ford was nowhere to be seen at any of the six campaign events federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer held in the Greater Toronto Area on the first three days of the federal election campaign.

“Doug Ford is not very popular, especially in the Greater Toronto Area,” said University of Toronto professor Nelson Wiseman, adding Scheer has no choice but to spend a lot of time in that very area.

“The reason Scheer is spending a lot of time in the ‘905’ is because that belt around Toronto, that horse shoe belt, is critical to forming a government. It’s critical to whether that government is going to be a minority or a majority.”

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When asked by a reporter during a campaign stop on Friday what Ontario residents are supposed to make of the fact he doesn’t seem to want Ford near the campaign, Scheer called that suggestion “completely false.”

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“We’re going to be all over the province of Ontario and the people who have worked to replace Liberals at the provincial level are obviously going to work to replace Liberals at the federal … level,” he said.

But behind the scenes, a senior Conservative campaign source speaking on background confirmed to Global News the so-called “Ford factor” is “definitely real,” and a concern. The party’s plan is to focus on being proactive about their own campaign message instead and staff are confident the federal election campaign will block out noise from the provincial level.

Wiseman agreed with that sentiment, saying voters will know the difference between provincial and federal politicians in part because they focus on different issues.

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“Although the public says it cares about health care, for example, which is usually near the top of issues, federal politicians cannot make promises like creating new hospitals or new emergency rooms or beefing up the number of medical students,” he said.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau regularly links the Conservatives with cuts, directly comparing Scheer to Ford and former prime minister Stephen Harper.

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Federal Election 2019: Scheer visits Etobicoke-Lakeshore MP candidate campaign office
Federal Election 2019: Scheer visits Etobicoke-Lakeshore MP candidate campaign office

“Conservative politicians say they’re for the people, but then they end up cutting taxes for the wealthy and cutting services for everyone else,” is a line Trudeau has used more than once, playing on the Ford government’s “for the people” slogan.

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Wiseman said the attacks have had an impact, but he doesn’t expect that impact to deepen.

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For his part, Ford said he won’t get involved in Scheer’s campaign despite the Trudeau attacks.

“I’m too busy governing and he’s too busy campaigning, and that’s fine,” he said last month.

The situation is a stark contrast from the more popular Conservative Premier Jason Kenney in Alberta, who said he will personally help with the federal campaign and has encouraged cabinet ministers and MLAs to do the same. Some officials have already been on the campaign trail — even in swing ridings outside of the province.

The federal Conservative campaign source told Global News Kenney is likely to appear alongside Scheer when the federal leader campaigns in Alberta.