With just about a week left until election day, Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford was supposed to make his first — and presumably only — campaign stop in Ottawa on Thursday.
But after a devastating storm ripped through the capital and the surrounding areas in eastern Ontario, Ford’s Ottawa trip was cancelled. One of his campaign insiders told CBC News that the focus should be on letting hydro workers concentrate on reconnecting the 74,000 residents still without power.
But if Ford was concerned about causing a distraction, why did he visit the storm-ravaged town of Uxbridge — located in the riding held by Peter Bethlenfalvy who served as Ford’s finance minister — on Monday? And why wasn’t Ford too worried about coming to Ottawa on Sept. 21, 2019, two days after Ottawa was hit with multiple tornadoes, to tour the damage then?
Now it looks like Ford may be coming to Ottawa on Monday, just three days before voters elect their next provincial government.
Hey <a href=”https://twitter.com/fordnation?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@fordnation</a>, in case you needed directions to Ottawa, here they are. <br><br>You called the <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/OttawaOutage?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#OttawaOutage</a> “a once in a lifetime storm” – Yet you don’t show up… <br>That’s not what leaders do. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/onpoli?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#onpoli</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/ottnews?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#ottnews</a> <a href=”https://t.co/SyHxgQRntI”>pic.twitter.com/SyHxgQRntI</a>
It’s not the first Ottawa emergency that Ford has skipped out on. He was criticized by some for not acting sooner during the trucking protests that occupied the capital for three weeks in February, although he did declare a state of emergency and call the protests “illegal.”
But he didn’t visit Ottawa at the time. And during the second weekend of those protests in the streets, which some were calling an “insurrection,” Ford was up at his cottage and was photographed snowmobiling.
Those absences have not gone unnoticed — with Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca, in particular, hitting Ford hard on the hustings during his three trips to the Ottawa region, telling voters how a leader’s job is “to show up.” And reminding them that he himself visited during the protests in February.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath dropped in on March 4, soon after the protests were over, calling for the province to give more than the $10 million it had promised to businesses hurt by the protests. And she’s been to Ottawa once since the election was called.
Ford, meanwhile, visited Ottawa on March 25 — weeks after the protests ended — to announce the next stage of funding for a new campus of The Ottawa Hospital.
City leaders say no reason Ford couldn’t come
Whether Del Duca’s message about showing up resonates with voters — or they see it as electioneering — remains to be seen. But Ford does seem to be falling into the Liberal leader’s script.
There appears to be no practical reason Ford couldn’t have toured Ottawa in the next day or two. Asked at a Tuesday news conference whether anyone dissuaded Ford and his entourage from visiting Ottawa, city leaders said no.
Mayor Jim Watson said he’d heard from the three major party leaders since the storm hit on Saturday, and said Ford “indicated any help the province can offer, he would be there to ensure that happens.”
The city has asked for heavy equipment to move trees off property more quickly, but there was no word yet when the machinery would arrive.
As for whether anyone dealing with the aftermath of the storm asked Ford to delay his planned campaign stop, the mayor said there had been no such request.
Little political gain for Ford in Ottawa?
On a purely political level, that Ford isn’t spending much time in eastern Ontario isn’t a huge surprise. The seats the PCs hold on the outskirts of Ottawa and in the rural areas outside the city are considered fairly safe.
The PCs picked up a seat in Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, which had been Liberal for 20 years. But the MPP left months later over the party’s francophone policies and eventually joined the Liberals, who are expected to retain the seat. Del Duca was in the rural riding east of Ottawa showing the flag on Monday, while Ford was in Uxbridge waving his.
The one riding that’s in play for the PCs is Ottawa West-Nepean, which pundits are calling a race to watch. It’s been traditionally held by Liberals, but in 2018 the party’s vote collapsed, and many switched their votes to the NDP candidate who ultimately lost by just 175 votes to the PC candidate.
The Liberals and NDP leaders are still fighting for it. Del Duca has been to the riding twice, including on the first weekend of the campaign, and Horwath had two events there last week.
So is Ford seemingly snubbing Ottawa because he’s confident the PCs can win it — or is he writing it off?
It’s hard to know.
Riding-level polling isn’t overly reliable, because the sample sizes are usually too small and the margins of error too large.
Perhaps trekking out to eastern Ontario takes too much time to prop up what would only be a single seat?
After all, the seats that the PCs need to keep in order to secure a majority government are mostly in the Toronto suburbs and surrounding areas.
And while it hasn’t been made public what Ford is doing during the day on Thursday, he won’t be visiting with folks in eastern Ontario in the evening — instead, he’ll be front and centre at a rally in the PC-NDP battlefield of Hamilton.