Canada

Doug Ford campaigns in storm-damaged Ottawa amid questions about what took him so long to get there


Doug Ford is on the defensive after being accused of the capital offence of avoiding Ottawa until the end of the provincial election campaign.

In his first visit of the 29-day campaign to the nation’s capital, the Progressive Conservative leader was asked why he didn’t show up in Ontario’s second-largest city until more than a week after a rogue storm on the long weekend left many residents without power.

Damage was so extensive that 8,000 residents were still waiting for electrical service to be restored as of Monday morning, effectively camping in their own homes.

“I was on the phone every single day, all day, making sure that we brought the resources in from around the county, to make sure we brought the resources in from all across Ontario,” Ford said, referring to conversations he had with local politicians and officials in his capacity as Ontario’s premier.

“We had a big job to do, and 99 per cent of the power is on, but I was in constant communications with the CEO of Hydro One, and Hydro Ottawa, even Toronto Hydro,” he said.

“We all pitched in, and our friends down in the U.S. as well,” he added, noting that American utility workers joined in the effort with crews from elsewhere in Ontario and Canada to restore power.

In Toronto, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Ford was too busy campaigning for a second term to survey the damage in the nation’s capital.

“Doug Ford has been AWOL … there are still people without electricity after the storm,” she told reporters on a street corner near Queen’s Park, before boarding her chartered bus for several stops on the way to Ottawa.

“Doug Ford hasn’t been there for Ottawa. I think the people of Ottawa know that very clearly,” she added in a reference to his absence during the so-called “Freedom Convoy” occupation, which effectively shut the downtown for weeks.

Campaigning in Don Valley West, the riding held by former premier Kathleen Wynne from 2003 until her retirement this year, Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca reiterated that “the only way to stop Doug Ford” is to vote for the Grits.

Del Duca, who has repeatedly criticized the Tory leader for ducking Ottawa, implored progressives to rally to the Liberals with Thursday’s vote rapidly approaching.

“I work with anyone, I’ll work with someone who has a membership in the Ontario New Democrats, anyone who has a membership in the Green Party. I’ll work with people who don’t have membership cards in any party in this province,” he said.

“Doug Ford … is someone who has demonstrated repeatedly he does not have the capacity to lead this province in areas like public education and public health care,” he said.

“He’s not fit to lead this province. He is the wrong person for the job.”

With the Liberals in second place behind Ford’s Tories in every public-opinion poll, Del Duca said the alternative to the Conservatives is “crystal clear.”

“Ontario Liberals will never stop working to earn and keep the trust of the people of this province. We respect what the voters have to say on Thursday, and then we move forward.”

Horwath said it makes no sense for progressives to vote Liberal, maintaining the party left long-term-care homes and hospitals in bad shape after 15 years in government — problems that were exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We can be trusted to fix what the Liberals broke and what the Conservatives continue to make worse,” she said.

As Horwath made her way to Ottawa, Ford headed to Windsor where his party is looking to wrest two ridings from the NDP after its MPPs Percy Hatfield and Taras Natyshak decided not to run again in the ridings of Windsor-Tecumseh and Essex, respectively.

With Ford looking to capitalize on funding for the development of a new Windsor hospital and recent announcements of taxpayer support for a new electric vehicle battery plant and EV assembly at Chrysler’s minivan plant in the border city, the NDP leader said Ford played a minor role in landing the investments.

“It’s not good enough to pretend at the last minute that you have a plan for good jobs in the auto sector … for politically gratuitous motivations,” Horwath added, noting Ford initially “put up the white flag” when General Motors said it was closing its Oshawa plant in 2018 — a decision that it later reversed.

“A premier that simply walks away from auto jobs in Oshawa is not fit to be the premier of this province,” she said.

Green Leader Mike Schreiner said the mini-heat wave in southern Ontario on Monday and Tuesday — highlighted by a special weather statement from Environment Canada — shows “the climate emergency is here and it is real.”

Meanwhile, Greg Essensa, Ontario’s chief electoral officer, said Monday that 1,066,545 voters cast ballots at advance polls during the 10-day period they were open.

That figure amounts to 9.92 per cent of all eligible voters, and was up from the 6.8 per cent of eligible voters who cast ballots in five days of advance polls in 2018.

In 2018, 57 per cent of Ontarians voted in a “change election” that featured the highest turnout in a generation.

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

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