Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford drew an impressive number of supporters to his campaign kickoff rally on Tuesday night just not as many as he claimed.
“When I look at this crowd, when I see the thousands of people here tonight, I see a team that is ready,” Ford said at the start of the rally in a convention centre near Toronto Pearson International Airport.
- Ontario Votes 2018: Campaign coverage
Ford’s spokesperson said between 1,200 and 1,300 people came through the doors of the event.
It’s the kind of mistake that would not likely sway any of the Ford faithful who erupted in cheers throughout the rally, responding raucously to such lines as, “We will send Kathleen Wynne packing.”
But it is the sort of unnecessary exaggeration that, when added to some of Ford’s other questionable claims, could feed the other parties’ attempts to undermine public trust in the PC leader.
The campaign for the June 7 election has its official start on Wednesday, with polls suggesting Ford is well-positioned to become the premier. It’s a sharp change of fate for the one-term Toronto city councillor, who lost his 2014 bid to succeed his dying brother Rob as Toronto mayor and who vowed last fall that he was sticking with municipal politics.
To swing the election to the PCs after four straight losses to the Ontario Liberals, Ford must win support from people like Sonia Mills-Minster. She’s female, black and lives in the seat-rich 905 suburban belt, all demographics that have leaned Liberal in recent provincial elections.
Mills-Minster, a counselling psychologist, says she has always voted Liberal. “This time no,” she said in an interview at the rally. “I’m tired of Wynne. I thought that she would have made more of a difference.”
- CBC’s Ontario Poll Tracker: The latest numbers
Asked if she trusts Ford, she replied, “I know enough about Doug that I’m willing to give him a chance.”
That’s no longer the case for Samuel Greenfield, who was also at the rally. He says he voted for Ford in his run for the party leadership but will not vote PC in the June 7 election because Ford disqualified Tanya Granic Allen as a party candidate last weekend.
Granic Allen is a staunch campaigner against Ontario’s new sex ed curriculum, developed under the Liberal government. She sought the party leadership and votes from the bulk of her supporters helped propel Ford to his victory.
Ford’s move was “an appalling betrayal of the conservative base,” said Greenfield in an interview. “He supported [Granic Allen] when it was convenient to, now he dumps her when it isn’t. Why should we trust Doug Ford when it comes to any other issue?”
A small business owner in Thornhill, Greenfield dismissed the PCs as “a conservative party that no longer has conservative values.”
- Ontario parties already ‘micro-targeting’ voters online
Ford attempted to shore up his backing from social conservatives on Tuesday by announcing a campaign pledge to scrap the sex-ed curriculum. He promises to consult with parents on a new version. In the meantime, the old, 1998 curriculum would be used.
“Many parents I hear from think Kathleen Wynne’s sex ed is too much, too early,” said Ford at a news conference Tuesday. “The Liberals have ignored Ontario parents. They have introduced a sex curriculum based on ideology, a curriculum that teaches very sensitive topics starting at an early age.”
The duality of Ford’s positions — dumping Granic Allen as a candidate while embracing her political agenda — shows the kind of tightrope the PC leader will try to walk during the campaign.
Last week he was forced to backtrack on comments he’d made promising to open the Greenbelt for development, potentially allowing building in the strip of protected land surrounding the Greater Toronto Area.
This week, he could face pressure to dump his personally handpicked candidate in London West, Andrew Lawton. A series of tweets compiled by CBC London shows Lawton railing againstwomen, Muslims, gays, and deaf people. Lawton blames a period of mental illness for the comments.
- Here’s what will decide the Ontario election
“He has come out and said that some of his comments weren’t appropriate,” Ford said Tuesday at a news conference. “I’ll accept that and we’re happy to have Andrew on as one of the candidates.”
Ford has yet to release a platform but is promising to do so soon, and to provide a full costing of his promises.
“The Liberals are watching us right now and I can tell you one thing: they are worried,” he told Tuesday night’s rally. “On June the 7th, with your help, we will win this election. We will win a strong, stable majority government.”