Toronto·Analysis

What Justin Trudeau's win means for Doug Ford and his government

The results of the federal election can be viewed as both good news and bad news for Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

For Ontario's premier, having an opponent as prime minister is likely more politically useful than an ally

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, right, sits with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the Ontario Legislature, in Toronto on Thursday, July 5, 2018. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

The results of the federal election can be viewed as both good news and bad news for Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

First, the bad news.

The way Ontarians voted suggests the Liberal brand remains rather strong in this province. Two thirds of the MPs chosen to represent Ontario ridings are Liberal. The Liberal share of the popular vote in Ontario (41.4 per cent) exceeded the share of the popular vote that Ford's Progressive Conservatives captured in the 2018 provincial election (40.6 per cent).

By contrast, Andrew Scheer's Conservative Party captured the support of 33.2 per cent of Ontario voters on election day.

For Ford, that's a concern because the federal Conservatives' polling numbers had been strong until earlier this year, then crumbled in virtual lock-step with Ford's own drop in popularity.

Likely the most troubling federal election numbers for Ford come from the 905, the region that put him in the premier's office by electing a large number of PC MPPs. This week, the popular vote in the 905 belt of the Greater Toronto Area (Halton, Peel, York and Durham regions) was: Liberal 47 per cent, Conservative 35 per cent, and NDP 12 per cent.

Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, left, is joined on stage by Ontario Premier Doug Ford after addressing the Ontario PC Convention in Toronto on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Numbers like these are bad news for Ford because they appear to prove the accuracy of what strategists from all parties and pollsters were saying throughout the campaign: the federal Conservatives were being dragged down by Ford. 

As the results were becoming apparent, Ford's backers tried to absolve the premier of blame for the dismal Conservative showing in Ontario. Barely 30 minutes after the polls closed, Conservative strategist Kory Teneycke told viewers watching the CBC News election night broadcast that "it was a mistake" to keep Ford muzzled and out of sight for the past couple of months. 

"Doug Ford has been more popular than Andrew Scheer through this entire election campaign in Ontario," Teneycke said. Important context: Teneycke ran the Ontario PC election campaign in 2018 and is tapped to do so again in 2022, so it's in his interest to boost Ford. 

His comments are also a sign that the team around Ford knows it needs to reverse the premier's sagging popularity before it's too late. The provincial election campaign begins in two-and-a-half years.

And that brings us to the good news for Ford about the election: Justin Trudeau won.

Sure, there's an argument to be made that the Ford government would be better off with a political ally as prime minister. They'd be in agreement on a lot of policies and, aligned with the many conservative-leaning premiers across the country, could accomplish big things together. 

Kory Teneycke managed the Ontario PC election campaign in 2018 and is tapped to do so again in 2022. (CBC)

But purely politically speaking, having an opponent in power in Ottawa could be far more useful for Ford. 

That's the view of Melissa Lantsman, now a vice-president at public relations company Hill+Knowlton Strategies Canada. She played a key role in Ford's election victory by leading his campaign communications.

"It is in Doug Ford's interest that he has somebody in Ottawa that is of a different political ilk than he is," Lantsman said this week. "By the time next [provincial] election rolls around, if Justin Trudeau is there and he's wildly unpopular, that's nothing but good for Doug Ford."

That perspective would seem to suggest Trudeau could be in for a taste of his own medicine. Just as Trudeau campaigned against Ford during this federal campaign, picture Ford turning the tables during the provincial campaign in 2022, after Trudeau has spent a couple of years as a weakened minority prime minister. 

Ford would hardly be the first Ontario premier to use a prime minister as a campaign foil. In 2014, Kathleen Wynne sensed growing antipathy for the federal Conservative government and campaigned almost as much against then-prime minister Stephen Harper as she did against Ontario's then-PC leader Tim Hudak.

In the meantime, the Ford government and the Trudeau government will have to figure out how to live with each other. 

Melissa Lantsman, now a vice-president of Hill+Knowlton Strategies Canada, led the communications side of Doug Ford's successful provincial election campaign. (Greg Bruce/CBC)

After weeks of trashing Ford's policies on the campaign trail, Trudeau made conciliatory noises at his post-election news conference on Wednesday. 

"We will keep on working with Mr. Ford and with all provincial premiers interested in working with us," said Trudeau in a response to a reporter's question. Asked about the tone of his post-election phone call with Ford, Trudeau described it as "very cordial."

Ford has not taken questions from reporters since the election, unlike every other provincial premier (except British Columbia's John Horgan, whose deputy premier held a post-election news conference Tuesday on his behalf.) 

Ford's reaction to the election results have come in the form of a written statement, a few remarks at a closed-to-media speech on Tuesday, and some comment at another closed-to-media event on Wednesday. (The premier's office arranged for the speech and event to be livestreamed, so we know what Ford said, but couldn't press him with questions.) 

"I want to congratulate the prime minister on his re-election and all the federal party leaders who ran an exceptional campaign," Ford said Tuesday at the start of a speech to OPP officers.

On Wednesday, Ford was back to taking shots at Trudeau's signature policy. He called the federal carbon levy "the worst tax you could ever face." It's a clear signal that Ford intends to keep up his government's court battle over the carbon tax, despite hinting in August that he would reconsider if Trudeau's Liberals won re-election.

It's also a clear signal that Ford sees the political bright-side of Monday's outcome. 

Clarifications

  • Due to an editing error, the meaning of a sentence was altered to suggest that Hill+Knowlton Strategies Canada led Doug Ford’s campaign communications. In fact, it was Melissa Lantsman, not Hill+Knowlton, who was involved in the Ford campaign.
    Oct 25, 2019 10:29 AM ET

About the Author

Mike Crawley

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Mike Crawley is provincial affairs reporter in Ontario for CBC News. He has won awards for his reporting on the eHealth spending scandal and flaws in Ontario's welfare-payment computer system. Before joining the CBC in 2005, Mike filed stories from 19 countries in Africa as a freelance journalist and worked as a newspaper reporter in B.C.

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