Premier Doug Ford is being accused of crass opportunism as his Progressive Conservative Party mounts a fundraising campaign based on his new push to mend a country “divided” by last month’s federal election.
Ford was on the defensive Tuesday as critics zeroed in on an email asking PC supporters to click on a link to donate two dollars.
“We’ve never seen this country so divided, ever — ever,” Ford insisted in the legislature’s daily question period, prompting critics to question whether he remembers the dramatic days of the 1995 Quebec referendum or the 1976 election of a Parti Québécois government.
“You’ll have to ask the premier if he studies history or not,” Green Leader Mike Schreiner said later. “This is political opportunism rather than a genuine attempt to bring the country together.”
New Democrat MPP Taras Natyshak said Ford should apologize for the fundraising effort and return any money to donors.
“Canadians heard some shocking news from the premier … the fabric of the nation is at risk unless we send him a toonie,” added Natyshak (Essex). “If the premier was remotely serious about this, he wouldn’t be trying to fundraise off of it.”
Ford said his post-election conversations with the conservative premiers of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec and New Brunswick led him to propose a meeting of first ministers in Toronto “to send the message around the world” that Canada remains a safe place to invest.
“Within a family there may be a few bumps, but we want to give the world certainty,” Ford added.
Concerns over national unity have been growing since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals were shut out in Alberta and Saskatchewan and the Bloc Québécois tripled its seat count in Quebec to 32.
Ford’s fundraising email said it’s time for Ontario to help Alberta and Saskatchewan in their fight against a federal carbon tax he accuses of “trying to shut down their energy industry,” warning “if Trudeau doesn’t get this right, some really big problems are going to get a whole lot worse.”
Government House Leader Paul Calandra said Ford is trying to play a traditional role for Ontario in times of national tension.
“Whether it was Bill Davis or David Peterson, the people of Ontario expect their premier to help bring people together,” Calandra told reporters.
Opposition parties said Ford is trying to fan the flames of discontent to create a national unity crisis for his own partisan purposes, and his $30-million court challenge of the re-elected federal government’s carbon pricing plan belies his “Captain Canada” stance.
“It’s pretty shameful that the divider-in-chief here in Ontario thinks that he can raise money out of pretending he’s going to bring some kind of semblance of unity to a country that’s simply going through various changes as it always does,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
“We’re a dynamic country. Things change in various regions over time.”
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Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said Ford could be “mistaking the economic challenges” that Alberta and Saskatchewan are having over low prices for oil and other commodities for a national unity crisis.
“Will the real Doug Ford please stand up?” he added, contrasting Ford’s combative persona during his first year in office to Ford’s gentler tone since MPs returned the legislature last week. “It’s like night and day.”