Susanna Kelley (Moderator): Within weeks of Doug Ford appointing a head of his election team for June 2022, ads are flooding the airwaves blaming Justin Trudeau for mishandling the pandemic. Is there anything more to this than electioneering? What kind of a campaign are we seeing unfold?  We asked Chris Loreto, Sarbjit Kaur and David Wills.

Chris Loreto:

I am going to respect the intelligence of our learned audience that reads us every week and say, yes there is an election in a year and pre-election is in the air.

However, the Ford government’s advertising campaign isn’t all about electioneering; it is about putting pressure on a federal Liberal government that has only been too content to ignore its responsibilities in this pandemic and blame the provinces.

The Trudeau Liberals have fallen short on securing our borders. Four letters and counting from our Premier to Justin Trudeau, and crickets.

Which is ridiculous considering that a failure to adequately secure our borders is what let the variants in that are wreaking havoc across the country.

Private jets are still landing at local airports. Hundreds of thousands of travelers have passed through our borders on flights and I would bet a dollar to a doughnut that not all of this travel has been “essential.”

Maybe the federal Liberals are ignoring the Premier’s letters because, well, they are electioneering.

Now, I am sure my Liberal and NDP colleagues will say that “Doug Ford is a bad man and he is putting politics ahead of people.”

The Premier has put politics aside. He has been on Team Canada from Day One, even though his teammates in Ottawa are not people I’d put on my fifth or sixth lines, never mind my top line (#hockeyreference #goleafs.)

The Premier suspended Ontario PC party fundraising for more than a year. Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca and the NDP never stopped. Del Duca and the NDP have been campaigning during the pandemic — non-stop. They have never sought to criticize the lack of federal leadership on COVID-19 — they have both been shameless apologists.

Neither have offered meaningful solutions to the challenge of the century thus far — they have only focused on grinding long-held axes or proposing the replacement of a democratically elected government with a “Pandemic Czar” (why are you running for Premier, SDD?).  

Sarbjit Kaur:

Well, as per the Globe and Mail Tuesday, Canada will surpass the U.S. later this week in vaccinations. We are doing better than the richest country in the world, the country that had the most vaccines — it’s incredible.

So, this attack on Trudeau as a central focus of an election campaign (which may have looked like a good bet a month ago) has just fallen apart. Ford will now have to actually talk about provincial matters and his own performance.

The problem with attacks and sending letters is the other side will typically respond. The PM has clearly responded to Ford’s letters about the border, asking him what more he’d like to do? Would he like to restrict the 30,000 students coming in approved by the Ontario government? The temporary foreign workers also approved by the provincial government?

We know very well the cases are not coming from across borders. If anything, people are griping about the expensive quarantine hotels and wanting some accommodations for the fact that some travelers (especially from the U.S.) are fully vaccinated and can take precautions to isolate at home.

Much like banning tennis ended up being very unpopular, railing against travel may end up being a dud cause as the variant risk gets under control.

Then Ford will go back to yelling about opening up the airport. He needs to make up his mind on what he wants.

David Wills:

I’m a little dizzy from Chris’ spin.

First off, the PCs raised $2.9 million in 2020 — the most of any party in Ontario.

Second, the Ontario NDP — in step with the federal NDP — have consistently pressured the federal government on everything from border controls to paid sick days to fairness for temporary foreign workers. The Ontario PCs are silent on two of the three.

But back to the topic. Yes, this is electioneering. Ford thinks he has picked a winner in attacking Trudeau, but the polling tells a different story.

All polling shows Ontarians and Canadians think the feds are doing a better job than Ontario.

But fighting Trudeau and the federal government is an old chestnut of a strategy. It lets you criticize someone else to distract from your own actions, or in this case, inactions.

The other part of the Ford strategy is to battle someone you are not running against. When he fights NDP Leader Andrea Horwath in public, people see the contrast and they might like the alternative better. Fighting Trudeau has less risk, because even though Trudeau is more popular, it is not a ballot choice.

Second, drumming on the border issue (Ford is not completely wrong on this either) distracts from the inactions by his own government. No paid sick days, overwhelmed ICUs, a clunky vaccine rollout — the list keeps going. Driving a narrative on something not in your control moves the spotlight away.

Remember, an Ontario election is a year away. The federal election will be much closer. Fighting Trudeau now may help Ford, but it will hurt his federal cousins.

But the federal Conservative party insulted Ford by sidelining him in 2019, so there is no love loss. Ford is thinking of Ford Nation, not the Conservative brand in this regard.

Chris Loreto:

I bet many Liberals have been singing “One Dose Summer” to Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer.”

But their inability to procure vaccine is impairing our ability to fight the third wave, avoiding a fourth wave altogether, and delaying our ability to get back normal life.

Almost one-third of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated. Less than five percent of the Canadian population is fully vaccinated and we will have to wait to the “Second Dose Fall” to fully re-open. (I am not too sure what the tune is for “Second Dose Fall” is as of yet — please make recommendations).

David, who is Andrea Horwath? Name sounds familiar. And why is she trailing an unofficial party with a leader who doesn’t have a seat in the Legislature?

I look forward to the next election. I look forward to our government being able to get back to implementing Ontario Health Teams that will deliver better integrated healthcare in our communities. I look forward to re-opening our economy and getting on with an economic growth plan that will make Ontario the place to invest in the country. I look forward to moving forward with the most ambitious public transit plan in a generation that will fuel job creation and help fight climate change. I look forward to connecting all Ontario communities to reliable broadband.

I can’t wait to get back to the government’s agenda to make Ontario strong again. It is better than having to fix Trudeau’s messes like the borders and a paid sick day program no one could access.

Sarbjit Kaur:

Yes — Doug Ford was trying to fundraise while isolating in his mom’s basement!

Meanwhile, Trudeau just recently dropped into to town to deliver a bunch to transit money. Reliable broadband and all those nice things also rely on the feds.

People know who is taking care of Ontario and making investments and who is messing with our hospitals, schools (hybrid learning for elementary kids??) and cutting anything while losing $4.2 billion. How do you cut and also spend so much money? Special Conservative talent. Highways that are unnecessary etc.

Anyways the guy without a seat has ideas. $10 a day daycare and such. He’s focusing on what he can do for Ontarians while the other guy is just punching at air.

Typically, before an election you at least take care of your base. The PCs have managed to annoy the golfers, truckers, taxi drivers, parents and kids.  Who is the base at this point? The people attending anti-mask rallies? Oh, wait they’re mad too — about having to wear masks.

I think it will be a very interesting election as this government runs out of ideas (nobody wants that highway) and buck a beer has run its course.

People have seen during the pandemic what supports we need: childcare, good jobs, better employment conditions. The Conservatives are not well positioned on any of these things. It’s not their strong point — never has been.

David Wills:

The Ontario Tories thought governing was all about erecting “Open for Business” signs at border crossings, changing license plates so they could not be read by photo radar and putting stickers on gas pumps that didn’t stick. They backed that up with bragging about cuts to public health, dismissing the value of it to being no more than stickers in restaurant windows.

Then it got hard. And they froze, then flinched. At first, Ford was grateful of confederation and a Team Canada approach. Until it became clear the people saw who was in charge. Then he was back to fighting Trudeau.

The next election will be in the hangover of COVID-19. All the reviews will be underway and Ford will add to his list of failures — long-term care, education, hospitals, paid sick days. He is focused on the border simply because it is not his issue.

Think about the list of those he has blamed: Trudeau, the rest of the federal government, teachers, unions, businesses and most recently, us — the public. We can’t go golfing because he knows a guy who picks up three friends on the way to the course and they crush beers in the parking lot after.

Nothing about what he could do. Stricter rules on safe activities. Make operators adjust to make outdoor activities safer. An advertising campaign reminding us to do our part for a while longer.

But no. He chooses a negative campaign instead.

Chris Loreto is the 1st Vice President of the Ontario PC Party and previously served as Chief of Staff to Ontario’s Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Native Affairs in the Harris government. He is currently Principal at StrategyCorp.  David Wills is a Senior Vice President at Media Profile. He worked as NDP political staff at Queen’s Park and provides counsel to federal, provincial and municipal elected officials. Sarbjit Kaur has worked in Liberal politics for 20 years, including as Director of Communications to a cabinet minister in the McGuinty government. She is a former journalist and currently co -founder of KPW Communications.

The ONW Salon: The Ontario Election Has Begun — Is Doug Ford Fighting Justin Trudeau?

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