Politics·Analysis

Why Scheer campaigns with Kenney but not Ford

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney fired up the crowd in front of a candidate's campaign office in Edmonton on Saturday as Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer hopped on stage. It's a scene you likely won't see repeated during the election campaign in Ontario, which is led by Conservative Premier Doug Ford.

There are risks and rewards from tying yourself to a provincial leader, expert says

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, right, and federal Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer attend a campaign rally in Calgary in April. Scheer told supporters that if they got Kenney to the Alberta legislature he'd make it to the Prime Minister's Office. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney fired up the crowd in front of a candidate's campaign office in Edmonton on Saturday as Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer hopped on stage. 

It's a scene you likely won't see repeated during the federal election campaign in Ontario, which is led by Conservative Premier Doug Ford.

Conservatives now make up most of provincial governments across Canada. So why does Scheer embrace one premier, but seemingly avoid another?

Ontario is shaping up to be a main battleground on election night. 

The path to a majority government for either the Conservatives or the Liberals runs through the province. It's also "seat-rich" as political insiders like to say, a nod to the fact that more than a third of Parliament's 338 seats call Ontario home.

The difference between Alberta and Ontario 

A negative perception in Ontario puts far more seats in jeopardy than anywhere else in the country. 

Ontarians have lived with a Ford government for over a year, meaning there's been enough time to form opinions about his leadership (whether positive or negative). 

Ford is one of Canada's least popular premiers. Only 38 per cent of people approve of him, according to an Angus Reid poll.

Those opinions aren't helpful for Scheer. A similar survey from the firm found that 42 per cent of Ontarians say they have decided not to vote Conservative because of Ford. 

For his part, the premier says he's been too busy to make an appearance at any of the handful of events Scheer has had in the Toronto region — including one just a few blocks from Ford's home. 

"Honestly, I just haven't had time. I don't want to interfere in the federal election. I want them to go out there and have a good race and let the best party win," Ford said.

When asked about it, Scheer didn't answer directly. He talked about the diverse geography of their volunteers and supporters. 

"I look forward to the results on Oct. 21, when the people in Ontario do federally what they did in Ontario."

Alberta's United Conservative Premier Jason Kenney says he is returning the favour to federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. Scheer appeared on Kenney's provincial campaign. 0:51

Tim Powers, a Conservative strategist with Summa Strategies, says whether or not to share a stage with provincial leaders comes down to opportunity versus cost. 

"Sometimes you're toxic and sometimes you're the Glade air freshener," he said, when asked about the difference between showing up with Ford, versus a premier like Blaine Higgs in New Brunswick. 

Ford's presence wouldn't "produce a favourable outcome" for Scheer's campaign, he said.    

Sweeping all Ontario's seats won't happen for the Conservatives, but they have a chance to accomplish that feat in Alberta. The party won 29 out of 34 seats in the province, while the Liberals and NDP split the remaining five.

Alberta is staunchly blue. So unlike in Ontario, it's very unlikely Scheer will lose votes in Alberta for campaigning with another Conservative leader. 

In fact, it could benefit Scheer to be seen with a popular figure in the province. Kenney's approval rating after his first quarter in office was 61 per cent.

Fodder for the opposition 

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau hasn't been shy about attacking the Ontario premier either — going so far as to call him out by name a dozen times in a single media availability. 

It started summer 2018 when the two sparred on immigration in a face-to-face meeting. Since then, the Liberals have turned from sunny ways to taking every opportunity they can to slam Ford. 

Ford has been criticized for sweeping cuts to education, environmental initiatives and social programs. 

But the Liberal strategy goes one step further. They're tying Ford to Scheer. 

If the two leaders were to get on a stage together, Powers says it would "play into the hands of Justin Trudeau."

Ontario's elected representatives headed home to their ridings Thursday as the legislature began an extra-long summer break that will last until after the October federal election. 2:04

When Trudeau made a health-care promise on the campaign trail, he asked the crowd about provincial and federal relations. 

"Who do you want at the negotiation table standing up to Doug Ford? Andrew Scheer, who follows Doug Ford's lead or our Liberal team who will fight for you?"

Scheer has fought back against the opposition barrage, but shaking the association is hard when you're painted in the same political colour.

'He's a great friend of mine'

The rationale to appear together goes beyond politics in Alberta's case. Kenney and Scheer also have a close personal relationship. 

"He's a great friend of mine," Kenney said Saturday after the event. 

"I'm just returning the favour." 

Their campaigning together started months ago, during the provincial election in April. 

In a Calgary baseball diamond, the two leaders outlined the job ahead — ending then-premier Rachel Notley's government, then turning the crosshairs to Trudeau in Ottawa. 

Scheer told supporters, shrouded in blankets of mid-blizzard snow, that if they got Kenney to the Alberta legislature he'd make it to the Prime Minister's Office. 

There are still 23 days left until the verdict on whether he's able to keep that promise. 

About the Author

Elise von Scheel is a reporter with the CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. She also produces The House and The Pollcast. You can get in touch with her at elise.von.scheel@cbc.ca.

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