What a difference a month makes.
An image of Doug Ford standing shoulder to shoulder with Justin Trudeau seemed far fetched during the throes of the federal campaign, but Friday both men were doing just that. Smiling, shaking hands and posing for the cameras.
According to sources with both camps, behind closed doors the meeting between the two leaders remained upbeat — the prime minister and premier even sharing a few jokes. All of it part of a coordinated effort to reshape Ford’s public image with Ontarians and Canadians.
From a shift in tone at the provincial legislature, to a scheduled meeting Ford is spearheading in early December with premiers from across the country, to assurances he will learn French — the leader is attempting a makeover.
The Doug Ford of 2019 is far from the image of a bombastic city councilor screaming at members of the public gallery at Toronto City Hall. During that time, Ford was known as an aggressive side-kick to his brother, late Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. He took that role on most fiercely during the Rob Ford drug-use scandal defending his brother in front of cameras almost weekly.
Now Doug Ford is on centre stage provincewide.
Political strategist Kim Wright says what’s most striking is Ford’s transformation since he took the reigns at Queen’s Park last year.
“He was ready to take on the world, now really to be almost the new Captain Canada,” said Wright.
Wright says there were significant missteps by Ford and his team out the gate
“I think you have seen in particular since the summer, since the Raptors parade where Premier Ford got booed, really taking a step back and saying, what have I done to get myself here and how do I stop being one of the most vilified people in the country?”
Ford swept to power in 2018 to win a strong majority government, largely based on his support in the vote-rich areas outside downtown Toronto, but since the election, his approval rating has dwindled largely due to deep cuts to programs. Privately, Ford’s team recognizes the need to re-calibrate, in part, to win back support and, according to sources within his inner circle, hopefully set him up for re-election.
Friday’s meeting prompted more speculation about whether or not the premier has his sights set on larger aspirations — such as a run for the Conservative leadership and, possibly, one day prime minister.
“They’re trying to be more engaging, they are trying to be more consultative, whether that fits into Premier Ford’s bigger play or not,” Wright said Friday. “Frankly, at the polling numbers they were at in the spring and summer, they had nowhere to go but up.”
According to his advisors, Ford is not ruling out a federal run, but not anytime soon. In order to take on that challenge with credibility, sources admit he’ll need to be re-elected in Ontario first.