Premier Doug Ford has emerged from a month of self-imposed election exile, saying he won’t be baited into a fight with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau — who repeatedly invokes his name in efforts to scare voters away from the federal Conservatives.
“When it comes to Justin Trudeau, he has a race to run along with the other leaders and I’m focused on governing,” Ford said Wednesday in Kenora during his first question-and-answer session with reporters since the International Plowing Match near North Bay on Sept. 17.
“I feel the guy loves me or something because he constantly mentions my name,” acknowledged Ford, chuckling. “That’s politics.”
Ford was pressed several times on his absence from the campaign trail for Monday’s federal election, which has seen Alberta Premier Jason Kenney make 23 GTA appearances on behalf of Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, including one around the corner from Ford’s home.
“I told Andrew Scheer right from the get go I’m not getting involved. We’re busy,” Ford added after announcing $5.3 million to repave streets in Kenora and Dryden, another remote northwestern Ontario community.
“This campaign will be over in another week and whoever gets elected we’re going to focus on building Ontario.”
Wednesday marked Ford’s third appearance before the media since an Aug. 23 visit to the Toronto police college, where he said he would reconsider Ontario’s $30 million court challenge of the federal carbon tax if Trudeau wins the federal vote.
Privately, Conservative sources have said they are worried the Ford government’s controversial record on increasing class sizes, autism funding, cutting the size of Toronto city council in half and other issues could hurt Scheer in the federal contest.
Meanwhile, Ontario Conservative sources have told the Star’s Robert Benzie that Ford — who postponed the return of the provincial legislature until Oct. 28 to stay out of Scheer’s way — is “getting sick of the cheap shots” from Trudeau.
Trudeau has repeatedly made Ford his foil during the campaign, mentioning his name as many as 16 times in a single news conference, in a continuing bid to link the controversial Ontario premier to Scheer.
“Andrew Scheer is telling people across the country to double down on Conservative leadership, to double down on the kind of cuts that Doug Ford is bringing in,” the Liberal leader said Oct. 1.
Meanwhile, Scheer has been distancing himself from Ford, rarely if ever mentioning the premier — even while at the campaign event a short walk from the premier’s house in Etobicoke Centre last month.
“Mr. Ford made the decision to remain focused on provincial issues,” Scheer said in French at a campaign stop Wednesday in Essex.
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Tensions remain between the Ford and Scheer camps.
While Scheer this week pledged to hold a meeting with provincial premiers on internal trade in January if elected prime minister, his press released mentioned Kenney and Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister but not Ford. Two sources told the Star that Ford was not happy to see his name excluded.