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Ford defends not visiting Ottawa sooner after storm, doesn’t tour impacted areas

Conservative leader Doug Ford makes a campaign stop in Ottawa on Monday, May 30, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick.

Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford defended his decision not to visit Ottawa in the wake of a deadly storm amid a brief visit to the city Monday — during which he didn’t tour the hardest-hit areas in the province.

Ford, who is seeking re-election as premier, made his first campaign stop in Ottawa on Tuesday during the provincial election cycle, nine days after the natural disaster swept across the province on May 21.

He defended his choice not to come sooner by saying he wanted to let hydro crews and other first responders finish their work first. He also accused his Liberal opponent, Steven Del Duca, of taking advantage of the situation for political gain by visiting Ottawa two days after the storm to survey damage.

“I’m not here to do a photo op, like maybe other politicians were,” Ford said at a brief morning campaign stop.

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The storm left thousands of residents in the National Capital Region without power, including 8,000 who were still in the dark as of Monday afternoon — with no timeline for full restoration.

Read more: Thousands still without power in eastern Ontario following May long weekend storm

Ford said he was “on the phone around the clock” requesting aid from other provinces and U.S. states. He said he wanted to give utility workers time to get their work done to restore downed power lines, and thanked them on Monday for their efforts to restore power.

Ford’s campaign stop in the riding of Ottawa West-Nepean on Monday morning was his first public appearance in the area in months. His stop there did not include any sites impacted by the storm, but he was scheduled to visit with local firefighters.

But Ford visited Uxbridge, Ont., on May 23, a day after that community declared a state of emergency following the same storm. He said that short trip 80 kilometres northeast of Toronto wasn’t part of his campaign.

“I had a call from the mayor, there wasn’t supposed to be any media there. I guess someone leaked it out,” said Ford when asked why he visited Uxbridge and not Ottawa. “I wanted to go there and take a quick look and came right back.”

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Eleven people died in the storm in Ontario and Quebec, nine of whom were killed by falling trees. Environment Canada said the severe weather involved a derecho — a rare widespread windstorm associated with a line of thunderstorms — that developed near Sarnia, Ont., and moved northeast across the province, ending in Quebec City.

In Windsor, Ont., on Monday afternoon, when asked again why he didn’t visit the hardest-hit sites in Ottawa during his brief visit, Ford pledged support for the city’s residents.

“We’ll always have the backs of the people of Ottawa,” he said.

His delayed visit after the storm is not the first time this year that Ford has been accused of neglecting Ottawa over the last several months.

Representatives from opposing parties criticized Ford for not visiting the nation’s capital this winter during the weekslong occupation of the city’s downtown by protesters angry with vaccination mandates and other pandemic measures. He’s also been accused of not reacting soon enough to quell the situation.

Del Duca of the Liberals repeated that criticism on Monday in response to Ford’s critique of his post-storm visit, saying in an emailed statement that Ford “didn’t show up for the illegal occupation” or the storm.

“Ottawa residents have been left behind again and again by the Ford Conservatives. It’s time for change. Real leaders show up — Doug Ford chooses to phone it in,” he said.

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Spillover protests related to the Ottawa demonstration had impacts in other cities — including the border city of Windsor, where a crucial trade artery was blocked by an anti-vaccine mandate protest at the Ambassador Bridge.

Ford jetted from Ottawa to Windsor for an afternoon media appearance on Monday and made a stop at the campaign office for Windsor-Tecumseh candidate Andrew Dowie.

The issues at stake during the anti-vaccine mandate protests were divisive, but Dowie — who’s running to unseat the NDP in the riding — said the PC government’s response to the Ambassador Bridge situation isn’t being received badly with voters he meets at the doors.

Dowie said he thought Ford’s approach to the Ottawa storm situation was “very reasonable,” noting that as a municipal councillor who has dealt with natural disasters, “time is of the essence” when it comes to restoring power.

“Having a press conference doesn’t benefit the end goal which is getting hydro restored,” he said.

Meanwhile, he said a visit from the party’s leader in the final few days suggests his riding is seriously in play, noting recent stops by the other two main party leaders, including the incumbent NDP.

“They’re trying to defend their turf here because they must realize belatedly that the people of Windsor are not happy,” he said.

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