With just about a week to go until Election Day, Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford was supposed to make his first — and likely only — campaign stop in Ottawa on Thursday.
But after a devastating storm tore through the capital and surrounding areas of eastern Ontario, Ford’s trip to Ottawa was cancelled. One of his campaign insiders told CBC News the focus should be on letting hydropower workers focus on reconnecting the 74,000 residents still without power.
But if Ford was worried about causing a distraction, why did he travel to the storm-ravaged town of Uxbridge – located in the constituency of Peter Bethlenfalvy, who served as Ford’s finance minister – on Monday? And why wasn’t Ford too worried about coming to Ottawa on September 21, 2019, two days after Ottawa was hit by multiple tornadoesto go around the damage then?
It now looks like Ford will come to Ottawa on Monday, just three days before voters elect their next provincial government.
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This is not the first emergency in Ottawa that Ford has jumped. He has been criticized by some for failing to act sooner during anti-trucking protests which occupied the capital for three weeks in February, despite having declare a state of emergency and call the protests “illegal”.
But he did not go to Ottawa at the time. And during the second weekend of these demonstrations in the streets, which some called an “insurrection”, Ford was at his cabin and was photographed riding a snowmobile.
These absences have not gone unnoticed – with Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca, in particular, hitting Ford hard on his three trips to the Ottawa area, telling voters how a leader’s job is to “get to present”. And reminding them that he himself surrendered during the February protests.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath arrived on March 4, shortly after the protests ended, asking the province to give more than the $10 million he had promised to businesses affected by the protests. And she’s been to Ottawa once since the election was called.
Meanwhile, Ford traveled to Ottawa on March 25 – weeks after the protests ended – to announce the next round of funding for a new campus for The Ottawa Hospital.
City leaders say there’s no reason Ford can’t come
Whether Del Duca’s message about running resonates with voters — or whether they view it as election propaganda — remains to be seen. But Ford seems to fall into the Liberal leader’s scenario.
There seems to be no practical reason why Ford could not have toured Ottawa the next day or two. Asked at a news conference Tuesday if anyone had talked Ford and his entourage out of Ottawa, city leaders said no.
Mayor Jim Watson said he’s heard from all three major party leaders since the storm hit Saturday, and said Ford “has indicated that any help the province can offer, he’ll be there to make sure that it happens”.
The city has requested heavy equipment to move the trees off the property more quickly, but it was not yet known when the machinery would arrive.
As to whether anyone dealing with the aftermath of the storm asked Ford to delay his planned campaign stop, the mayor said there was no such request.
Small political gain for Ford in Ottawa?
On a purely political level, that Ford does not spend much time in Eastern Ontario is not a huge surprise. PC seats on the outskirts of Ottawa and in rural areas outside of the city are considered fairly safe.
The Conservatives won a seat in Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, which had been Liberal for 20 years. But the MPP left months later to the party’s francophone policy and eventually join 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 only riding that’s in play for PCs is Ottawa West-Nepean, which pundits call a race to watch. It is traditionally held by the Liberals, but in 2018 the party vote collapsed and many shifted their votes to the NDP candidate who ultimately lost by just 175 votes to the PC candidate.
Liberal and New Democrat leaders are still fighting for it. Del Duca has visited the constituency twice, including the the first weekend of the campaignand Horwath hosted two events there last week.
So does Ford appear to be snubbing Ottawa because he’s convinced PCs can win — or is he canceling it?
It’s hard to know.
Constituency-level polls are not very reliable because the sample sizes are usually too small and the margins of error too large.
Maybe a hike in Eastern Ontario takes too long to support what would only be one seat?
After all, the seats the Conservatives need to keep to secure a majority government are mostly in suburban Toronto 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 people in eastern Ontario in the evening – instead he will be there. in the foreground at a rally in the PC- Hamilton NDP Battlefield.