In late 2018, Maclean’s Magazine released a cover with Canada’s conservative leaders titled ‘The resistance.’ While the story was focused on their opposition to the Prime Minister’s carbon pricing plan, it forecasted a significant division between these right-leaning premiers and a left-leaning Liberal prime minister. Two years later, the division is real but is the resistance?
With the third COVID-19 wave hitting Alberta hardest, Premier Jason Kenney has had to institute lockdown measures that he has tried hard to avoid. In the process, he has created opposition from all corners of the province, including friendly fire from upset members of his United Conservative Party (UCP) caucus. Declining support for the Alberta premier has voters rethinking their decision to turf former Premier Rachel Notley and the NDP. A glimmer of hope for the Kenney administration is that they have two years to right the ship and put the pandemic behind them. For Kenney’s team, they remain hopeful that the old adage ‘time heals all wounds’ holds true.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford has less time on his hands to course correct with the writ set to be dropped in under a year. According to a late April poll from Abacus Data, Ford’s negatives rose by 9 percent in one week and brought his approval numbers down to nearly pre-pandemic levels. Like Premier Kenney, the opposition to the Ontario PCs is coming from all sides of Queen’s Park. Many provincial Tories are upset over yet another stay-at-home order and closure of outdoor activities, while the opposition Liberals and NDP continue to criticize the Premier for causing the third wave by failing to heed medical advice. At the height of the paid-sick-days debate, Premier Ford was forced into his own 14-day self-isolation. It caused the government to bend slightly and institute their own COVID sick leave offering, but it did not silence the critics.
The government remains in the hot seat and with the 2022 campaign around the corner, they are trying to deflect blame to the federal Liberals with a new attack ad. The ad, released this past week, blames Prime Minister Trudeau and the federal Liberals for not closing Canada’s borders. This inaction, the ad implies, allowed the UK, South Africa, Brazil and India variants into Ontario. It is an attempt to bring unhappy PC supporters back in the fold and redirect their anger at the Prime Minister.
In response, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic Leblanc asked the Ford government for a list of countries it wanted to see banned. This heightened political rhetoric does not bode well for federal-provincial relations and anyone needing help from both levels of government. At the beginning of the pandemic, Ford lauded the relationship he had with Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and the federal government. The tit-for-tat over vaccine supply versus distribution, as well as the border flair up, has strained the relationship.
By no means is Doug Ford down-and-out. A year is a long time in politics and campaigns matter in Ontario. Just ask opposition leaders John Tory and Tim Hudak. Each Progressive Conservative leader led in the polls heading into their respective campaigns and were defeated by incumbent premiers Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne. While it is easy to look ahead to the election in 2022, Ford needs to leave that in the hands of his campaign team. The premier needs to stay focused on getting needles in arms and returning the province to a state of normalcy. The actions and tone he takes now, along with his economic recovery plan in the fall economic statement, could be the medicine he needs to turn his electoral fortunes around.