In the midst of a heated labour dispute with 55,000 educational workers, the threat of schools across the province shutting down Monday, and the backdrop of a federal election campaign, Premier Doug Ford remains tight lipped and out of the media spotlight.
The last time the premier spoke to press was on Sept. 17 in North Bay.
Since then, Ford has ducked media when attending cabinet meetings, opting to enter the executive council chamber though back hallways at Queen’s Park.
The premier’s office declined to disclose Ford’s calendar for the past two weeks; an interview request with Global News was also denied and the office would not answer questions on when the premier would hold his next media availability.
Ivana Yelich, the premier’s press secretary said in an email, “The premier’s office notifies the media of public events and media availabilities, and the premier regularly informs the public about his daily meetings through his social media feeds.”
Ford was pictured at a community barbecue for PC MPP Christina Mitas in Toronto on Sept. 29, but the media were not notified of the event ahead of time.
When asked about the premier’s current whereabouts, Yelich said, “The premier is in Ontario.” She did not provide further details.
Government sources not authorized to speak publicly say advisors are telling the premier to stay out of the news until the federal election campaign is over.
Global News learned later Friday that Ford was in Sudbury Thursday night at a $600-a-plate fundraisers for the Ontario PC Party.
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has distanced himself from Ford and has not been pictured with the premier since the writ dropped.
Scheer has campaigned with other prominent conservative leaders, however, including Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. This weekend both are scheduled to appear together once again.
Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce has been in front of the media speaking about negotiations with CUPE and sources say he is the go-to minister when it comes to commenting on the federal election and attacking Justin Trudeau.
Lecce was a former communications staffer for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and is viewed as a highly effective communicator within Ford’s cabinet, sources say.
Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath told Global News Friday, “Doug Ford is hurting students with his deep cuts to education. He’s thrown mud at our educators since taking office and has set a terrible tone for these negotiations. Instead of showing leadership, and doing the hard work of bringing all parties back to the table, to keep our students and educators in the class, he’s on recess.”
Interim Ontario Liberal leader John Fraser reiterated that point saying, “Leadership is being present at critical times like this and also to be accountable to the people you serve. Doug Ford is doing neither.”
Fraser also said, “Ask yourself, would Bill Davis, Dalton McGuinty, Kathleen Wynne or even Mike Harris have been completely absent in the face of a labour disruption of this magnitude? No. Because they were leaders. They understood the job. And someone else’s political fortunes were not more important than the children of this province.”
Fraser says the federal election should not impact Ford’s public presence.
“Being an albatross around Andrew Scheer’s neck is not a good enough reason for his absence,” he said.
Ontario Green Party leader Mike Schreiner, meanwhile, was blunt in his response to Ford’s public absence.
“The premier needs to come out of the witness protection program to fix the disruption in our schools that his education cuts have caused,” he said.
The provincial legislature usually resumes sitting after Labour Day, but this year Ford decided to extend the summer break by more than a month.
MPPs will be back at Queen’s Park on Oct. 28 — seven days after the federal election.