Doug Ford staying quiet but wants to fire back at Justin Trudeau

Premier Doug Ford is itching to fire back at federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau for constantly attacking his provincial Progressive Conservative government, sources told the Star.

Ford, who has shown remarkable discipline throughout the federal campaign in order not to hurt Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, has privately told associates he is growing fed up with Trudeau’s daily barbs.

In his few public comments on the Oct. 21 election, the premier has calmly maintained he is “busy governing” while the Liberal leader is “busy campaigning.”

But behind the scenes, those close to Ford say he is not happy at being Trudeau’s punching bag on issues like education, health, justice, and infrastructure funding.

“He’s getting sick of the cheap shots,” said one Conservative insider, speaking confidentially in order to relay private conservations.

“It’s not in his nature to sit back and let someone take shots at him,” added the Tory, noting Ford enjoys a political tussle.

Indeed, the premier has even gotten into shouting matches with rowdy protesters who demonstrate in the public viewing galleries inside the legislature.

Yet he has so far resisted the temptation to blast Trudeau, who mentions Ford almost every day on the hustings.

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In contrast, Scheer treats the premier’s surname as a four letter F-bomb he is loathe to say aloud — even when he campaigned 700 metres from his home in Etobicoke Centre two weeks ago.

The Tory leader appears to have only said it once during the campaign — when CP24’s Stephanie Smyth asked him Sept. 12: “Can we expect to see Doug Ford campaigning with you?”

“I will leave it to Doug Ford to decide what he wants to do. I’m focused on our campaign,” Scheer told Smyth.

Trudeau cites Ford in English and in French regardless of where in the country he is campaigning.

“Who do you want at the negotiation table standing up to Doug Ford: Andrew Scheer, who follows Doug Ford’s lead, or our Liberal team who will fight for you?” the Liberal leader said last week in Hamilton.

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On Monday, Adam Vaughan, the Liberal incumbent in Spadina-Fort York, said Ford often comes up when he’s canvassing because of labour strife in schools and changes announced in the April provincial budget.

“The people of Ontario know austerity hurts them — the cuts hurt them, their kids, whether it’s autism programs or public education, public housing, public transit. That’s the message that resonates,” said Vaughan.

Conservative sources told the Star that Tory candidates are urged to pivot to Ford’s Liberal predecessors if voters broach the PC premier.

“Our candidates remind Canadians that the same people who worked for Kathleen Wynne and Dalton McGuinty now work for Justin Trudeau. They left behind scandals and deficits and are following the same playbook now,” said a federal Conservative campaign official.

Tory candidates are discouraged, however, from opining on Ford at the doorsteps.

That’s because polls show the premier — who has a 25 per cent approval rating and a 63 per cent disapproval rating for an overall minus 38 per cent, according to the most recent Campaign Research survey — is a drag on the federal Conservatives in Ontario.

Another PC official stressed the premier, who has no plans to campaign for Scheer, is keeping his powder dry because he knows he will have to work with Trudeau again if the Liberals are re-elected.

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Interestingly, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney will hit the trail for Scheer in the Greater Toronto Area this weekend.

Ontario Public Service Employees Union president Warren (Smokey) Thomas said Monday that “Ford’s buried himself, in hopes that voters won’t bury federal Conservative candidates on election day.”

“Ford may be radio silent right now,” said Thomas. “But people’s resentment is still red hot.”

Robert Benzie

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

TORONTO STAR

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