TORONTO — Polarizing politician Doug Ford officially launched his bid to lead Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party with a rally in Toronto Saturday night, where he outlined his platform in the race’s first campaign rally.
Ford promised to keep taxes low, attract more business to the province, and reject a federally imposed carbon tax if elected as the next premier of Ontario.
“I will not support policies and taxes that make life more expensive,” Ford told a crowd of cheering supporters.
“And if the Prime Minister tries to make us — well, in the words of his father — ‘Just watch me.’”
The former Toronto city councillor also attacked current Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne, criticizing what he called a disastrous energy policy, vanishing manufacturing jobs and rising taxes and costs in the province.
“The stakes have never been higher,” said Ford. “People across Ontario are suffocating under the weight of high taxes and big government.”
A last-minute race to elect a new leader of the PC party was triggered last month, after the abrupt resignation of previous leader Patrick Brown amid allegations of sexual misconduct.
Brown vehemently denied the allegations, which were reported by CTV News and have not been independently verified by The Canadian Press.
Ford, who was the first to announce his candidacy, says it’s time to wrest control of the party from “elites” and speak up for people he feels have been shortchanged by Wynne’s government.
Political observers say the combination of name recognition, a well-defined message and open disdain for an unpopular government mean Ford could mount a credible challenge for the leadership.
“Doug Ford can’t be underestimated in this race,” said Rob Leone, a former Progressive Conservative member of the Ontario legislature and current political science professor at Western University.
Leone said Ford has a leg up thanks to an established ground game and support organization, which could be key assets as leadership hopefuls scramble to meet a tight, five-week timeline. Voting to choose the new leader begins March 2, with results to be unveiled March 10.
Ford’s anti-elitist message resonated with the crowd at Saturday night’s rally, who booed emphatically at every mention of Wynne and the Liberals.
“Doug Ford may be rich, but at least he hangs out with the rest of us,” said Kim King, a Ford supporter at the rally, who referenced community events that the Ford family hosts in Toronto every year.
“The elitists, you only see them once every four years.”
Ford’s stronghold of supporters in suburban Toronto meant attendance was high at his first event in the city, but Ford said he’ll focus on drumming up support across the province in the coming weeks.
“From the 519 (area code) to the 613 — from the 905 to the 705 and the 416 — you will have a voice in our party,” said Ford.
“Our policies will empower you, the people of this province.”
Ford will be contending against Christine Elliott, a PC politician who has run for the leadership twice already. Caroline Mulroney, the daughter of former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, is expected to announce her candidacy in the near future.
Salmaan Farooqui and Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press