Canada Randall Denley: Trudeau's desperate Scheer-is-just-like-Ford strategy is laughable
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Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has a clear message for Ontarians: Don’t vote for Conservative Andrew Scheer because that would be “doubling down’ on Ontario Premier Doug Ford. Ford and Scheer, you see, are so similar that it’s difficult to tell them apart.
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The fundamental issue in the contract negotiations between the Ontario government and its education unions is this: should government have the power to moderately restrain the cost of education? The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation says no. This week, the union took the unusual step of releasing its full contract demands publicly before talks have formally begun. The union leaders must think the highly detailed documents they have put out will make people believe their demands are pretty darned reasonable.
As much as Trudeau might like people to believe that, it would be tough to find two Conservative politicians more different than Scheer and Ford. Even during an election campaign, when truth typically takes a holiday, the Scheer-is-just-like-Ford argument is laughably off base. It has novelty value, though. It’s not every day that you see a prime minister build his re-election campaign around attacking a premier’s record.
Ford and Scheer come from quite different backgrounds, and that has shaped their values and the way they operate. Scheer grew up in a thrifty, middle-class family in Ottawa with parents who were cautious and conservative. Ford was raised in Etobicoke, where his father was owner of a successful business and later, an MPP.
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Ford has a slim political resume, while Scheer has been involved in politics most of his adult life. Ford served a single term on Toronto city council and spent years around the fringes of the Ontario PC party, but was never a real player until his surprising leadership victory. Even then, he came into the job as an outsider who was not supported by most of the caucus. His victory was akin to a hostile takeover and Ford was a relative political amateur when he became premier.
Scheer, by contrast, defines political professional, for better or worse. First elected at the age of 25, he has been an MP for 15 years and worked in political offices before that. Scheer has used that time to build alliances within the party. Like Ford, Scheer won a narrow leadership victory but it wasn’t a surprise to those had followed his career.
Ford is a brash, loud kind of guy, given to the sweeping statement and the bold claim. The premier likes a good fight, although, to his credit, he has resisted the temptation to respond to Trudeau’s constant jabs. Scheer is cautious and incremental. He’s much more like former prime minister Stephen Harper than he is like Ford.
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Andrew Scheer is small-c conservative to the bone. He believes in balanced budgets and smaller government. His Catholic faith informs his personal moral views. He is a policy wonk who has long been intellectually engaged with conservative ideas. Doug Ford likes balanced budgets and smaller government too, but Ford is a pragmatic populist, not an ideologically driven conservative, and certainly not a social conservative.
Sources close to both men say they have completely different operating styles. Ford will listen to both sides of an argument, then make a decision based on gut instinct. Scheer consults widely and invites others to challenge his view. He’s far less quick to make up his mind. While Ford is content to delegate most of the detailed work to cabinet ministers, Scheer is much more engaged with every facet of his party’s policies.
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As people and political leaders, Scheer and Ford clearly don’t have a lot in common, nor have they ever worked together. Both have, however, vowed to chip away at inherited Liberal deficits, balancing their respective budgets in five years. Ford’s version of austerity involves record provincial spending. This reckless, maniacal approach to government is what sets Trudeau off on his rant about cuts.
Despite having no direct personal experience with cutting anything, Trudeau knows it must be wrong, and he’s putting your money where his mouth is. Four years ago, he said that balancing the budget was still a thing, although clearly not a priority. Now, that kind of thinking is so 2015. He has promised deficits totalling $92 billion over four years. Deficits are good, the bigger the better. Why don’t guys like Ford and Scheer get that?
Trudeau may well be genuinely perplexed by leaders who want to live within the public’s means. Most of the time, spewing borrowed money at voters is good politics. It’s bad government, but that’s a problem for another day.
Trudeau’s Ontario strategy is high-risk. He is betting everything that people in the province hate Ford so much that they will vote for a party that will drown them in debt, exactly what they just rejected provincially last June. To win that bet, Trudeau has to convince Ontarians that Scheer and Ford are essentially the same guy. Perhaps it doesn’t matter, but that’s not even close to true.
Randall Denley is an Ottawa political commentator and former Ontario PC candidate. Learn about his new book Spiked at randalldenley.com. Contact him at
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