Tensions between Ontario’s premier and the leader of the Opposition escalated Wednesday as Kathleen Wynne accused Doug Ford of being just like U.S. President Donald Trump, in what experts predict is a glimpse of a hostile election campaign to come.
Wynne pushed back against Ford on Wednesday, when she was asked about comments the Tory leader made a day earlier in which he suggested some Liberals could face jail time if they pulled what he described as “shady tricks” with taxpayer dollars.
The premier called Ford a bully and a coward and said he’s borrowing from Trump’s playbook. She said his words are similar to Trump’s attacks on his opponent Hillary Clinton, which included repeated calls to “lock her up.”
“Doug Ford sounds like Donald Trump and that’s because he is like Donald Trump,” said Wynne. “He believes in an ugly, vicious brand of politics that traffics in smears and lies. He’ll say anything about anyone at any time because just like Trump, it is all about him.”
Wynne said she won’t make the same mistake Clinton did, and will instead fight back against that type of behaviour.
“I’m not going to go high. I’m not going to go low. I’m going to call that bullying behaviour out for what it is,” she said. “He may be Donald Trump, but I’m not Hillary Clinton … and Ontario is not the United States of America.”
The Progressive Conservatives dismissed the comparison to Trump as a bizarre and desperate election ploy meant to distract from the Liberals’ political record.
“Desperate, desperate person,” Ford said when asked about Wynne’s comments. “We’ve seen this trick before, she’s trying to hoodwink the people, she thinks she’s smarter than the people.”
Ford repeated his promise to order a full outside audit of government books if elected premier.
The Tory leader announced the proposed audit Tuesday, saying he didn’t trust the Liberals’ accounting and referencing the gas plants scandal that saw former premier Dalton McGuinty’s ex-chief of staff sentenced to four months in jail for deleting documents.
“If Kathleen Wynne tried to pull these kinds of shady tricks in private life, then there would be a few more Liberals joining David Livingston in jail. Ontario deserves answers about how big Kathleen Wynne’s mess really is,” Ford said Tuesday.
The latest exchange is just a sign of what will likely be a particularly nasty campaign, experts said, echoing the premier’s prediction of a “vicious” race to lead the province.
“This is a bad preview of what may be in store,” said Myer Siemiatycki, a political science professor at Toronto’s Ryerson University.
Ford knew exactly what he was evoking with his statement, Siemiatycki said.
“I think he was channelling – and I think he was consciously channelling – Donald Trump, knowing how effective that kind of slogan and rally cry was in galvanizing political support,” he said.
“On the other side, I think the very swift and strong defence and counter-attack coming from Kathleen Wynne, I think maybe on her side intended to rally women especially to her cause.”
Political analyst John Wright joined us to examine the battle of words, and to discuss the larger strategy at play on the campaign trail. Watch below.
A massive cultural shift has occurred since the 2016 U.S. election in the rise of the Me Too movement, creating a climate in which it may be easier to push back against behaviours that would have previously gone unchallenged, experts said.
“Is Wynne right to call someone out for bullying and using language that she’s finding offensive and inappropriate? I mean, it’s a strong position to be in and I think the public is more open to that kind of thing now,” said Laura Stephenson, a political science professor at the University of Western Ontario.
“I think this is going to be something that we may see more of,” she said.
It likely won’t sway those with more populist views, however, Stephenson said. “There’s a lot of people in Canada who don’t dislike Donald Trump, so if anything, this may actually might be playing to some strengths that I think would already have been coming out,” she said.
The Tories also suggested Wynne’s criticism of Trump could compromise sensitive NAFTA negotiations, but Stephenson said the premier’s comments are unlikely to stir trouble and may even go unnoticed by the president.
Still, Stephenson said, when it comes to Wynne fighting back, “What does she have to lose?”
After 15 years in power, the Liberals have been lagging in the polls and face an uphill battle in the June election.
The Tories have repeatedly criticized the Liberals for what they call reckless spending of public funds.
A key ratings agency, Moody’s Investor Services, downgraded its outlook on Ontario’s finances Wednesday to “negative” from “stable” in light of the Liberal government’s plan to run six consecutive multibillion-dollar deficits.