I won’t campaign for Erin O’Toole in next federal election, Doug Ford says

Premier Doug Ford is urging Conservatives to “rally around” new federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole but says he won’t campaign for him in the next federal election.

“I’m so swamped right here,” Ford told a news conference Monday at Queen’s Park, where he has been working long hours tackling the COVID-19 pandemic and controversy around back-to-school plans for children across the province.

“I can’t take my eye off the ball for an election or anything else,” he added. “I won’t be campaigning for anyone, like I didn’t last time, either.”

Ford was treated as a liability and shunned by former Conservative Party of Canada leader Andrew Scheer during last fall’s federal campaign. He has made a point of working with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government throughout the coronavirus crisis and regularly touts his co-operative dealings with Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, the new finance minister.

“We have a phenomenal relationship. I think the world of the deputy prime minister, we are able to get a lot accomplished just by communicating and collaborating — and along with the prime minister as well,” the premier added during his daily teleconference with journalists.

“I’ll work with anyone at the end of the day. And like I say, I don’t care what political stripe you’re from, if you get elected I’ll work with you,” continued Ford, who has repeatedly thanked the federal government for financial assistance during the pandemic and help from Canadian Armed Forces medical teams in nursing homes hard-hit by the killer virus.

“I wish everyone all the best and let the best person win.”

Trudeau has a minority government and there is talk the possibility of a federal election this fall if his government is toppled on a vote of confidence following the upcoming Throne Speech.

As the Star has reported, the premier privately expressed frustration last fall after being frozen out by Scheer — who rarely mentioned his name on the campaign trail — and being a frequent target of Trudeau on the hustings after a rocky first year in power that left Ford and his Progressive Conservatives lagging in public opinion polls.

But now Ford has improved his standing in the polls and pledges to stick to his knitting with the next provincial election less than two years away, in June 2022.

Pressed on why he won’t help push a Conservative agenda by campaigning for O’Toole, whose father is former Progressive Conservative MPP John O’Toole, Ford said, “I’m gonna take the high road here.

“I’m gonna just work hard with Ontario … getting our economy back up and running, make sure everyone’s safe here.”

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Deputy Premier and Health Minister Christine Elliott, who shares Durham Region roots with O’Toole, tweeted her support for him on Monday.

“You will be a great leader and have made #Durham proud,” she wrote.

Rob Ferguson

TORONTO STAR