Doug Ford visits northern Ontario for 2nd time in less than a month
Trip includes stops in Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie, Kenora, Thunder Bay, North Bay, Sudbury
For the second time in less than a month, Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford is visiting cities in northern Ontario to rally support ahead of next month's provincial election.
Ford visited Timmins and Sault Ste. Marie on Tuesday, and has scheduled stops in Kenora and Thunder Bay on Wednesday and North Bay and Sudbury on Thursday.
"I think he's trying to expand the map, if you will," said Nipissing University political science professor David Tabachnick. "He probably has a fairly strong base around the GTA, and he's looking up here in northern Ontario and northeastern Ontario and sees an opportunity maybe to flip a couple of seats."
A three-day trip in early April included visits to Sudbury, Thunder Bay, Sioux Lookout, Dryden and Kenora. Tabachnick sees these early pre-campaign trips as part of the Conservatives' ongoing attempts "to get a foothold here," although swaying northern Ontario voters comes with unique challenges.
"It's a bit of a conundrum here in the north, because on the one hand we rely a lot on social services which obviously require a certain amount of taxation and spending. If Ford is running as a traditional conservative, that kind of message won't necessarily work across the entire province, where people might be wanting to see tax cuts that wouldn't necessarily be good for the north," he said.
"But on the other hand what the north also needs is some form of economic development spurring business. And issues such as natural resource development — obviously the example of the Ring of Fire comes to mind — would probably play very well."
Alienation a factor
Another factor is the social and political disconnect between northern and southern Ontario, according to Tabachnick, which has left some voters in the north feeling alienated from decisions made at Queen's Park.
"I don't know if Ford fully appreciates the nature of that alienation, and it's a very difficult issue to tackle," he said. "Can there be some sort of way that a populist politician like Doug Ford can convince us that some of the wealth that is going to be dug out of the ground or cut down from our forests are going to generate other kinds of jobs...here in the north? I think that very much would be the key to overcoming alienation."
Regarding this week's northern Ontario trip, a Ford campaign spokesperson said in an email that "the Liberal government is out of touch with the north. Doug Ford is for the people everywhere in Ontario, whether it is Timmins and Kenora, or Ottawa and Niagara," followed by a promise to bring back jobs to the province.
Tabachnick believes that to garner support in the region, the Ford campaign will have to get more specific with its promises as the campaign unfolds.
"I would like to see a clear set of principles or planks in a platform dealing with the north, and I haven't seen that yet," he said. "But mind you, Ford doesn't really have a platform as far as I see. So I'm certainly sure he will make at least one more trip up to our region during the campaign."