TORONTO — Ontario's Liberals are drawing lessons from the last U.S. election as they unleash advertising they say aims to expose the "real" Doug Ford and what he would do if elected premier this spring.
As the party unveiled its first ad Friday, senior campaign officials said they want to highlight how a Tory government under Ford would affect Ontario residents, in order to avoid what they believe was a fatal flaw in the attacks aimed at U.S. President Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election.
Those ads focused too heavily on Trump's personality and it would be a mistake to do the same for Ford, who in many ways is a similar candidate, the officials said.
The first ad, which will air online, on television and radio, says the Progressive Conservative leader would lower corporate taxes while rolling back minimum wage and cutting 40,000 public sector jobs.
Other ads will nonetheless take aim at Ford's character, reviving some of the controversial statements the Toronto politician has made in the past. One ad, whose debut date was not specified, will feature Ford's 2014 comments about a home for children with developmental disabilities.
"We think it's really important that when people make the choice — and it's going to be the starkest choice they've had to make provincially for a long time — that they have the full facts on who Doug Ford really is," Liberal campaign co-chair Deb Matthews said Friday.
Asked why the Liberals would attack Ford right from the start rather than tout their own leader Kathleen Wynne and her record, Matthews said the party's research shows many people don't know much about the newly chosen Tory leader.
Ford has made a point to avoid scrutiny and has publicly said little about his plans for the province, she said.
Liberal campaign officials acknowledged they went on the offensive because polls have consistently predicted a Tory victory. The party is spending the maximum allowed under political advertising rules — $1 million for the period before the campaign begins — on the series, they said.
Ford's campaign said Friday the ad shows the Liberals "have nothing left to offer other than fear and smear."
"We will keep campaigning for the people, and against Kathleen Wynne's 15-year record of waste, corruption, abuse and mismanagement," they said in a statement.
Ford has not committed to releasing a fully costed platform ahead of the June 7 vote, as he had initially promised, saying only that he would present his policy priorities.
New Democrats also panned the Liberal message, saying Wynne's campaign "launched an angry, desperate ad that definitely doesn't give people any reason to change their minds and vote for her."
Their leader, Andrea Horwath, recently launched her first campaign ad on Facebook, which focuses on "her positive vision for the province," they said, and will eventually release television ads. The NDP said it would run the biggest campaign it has ever run in Ontario.
The Liberals' decision to target Ford is unsurprising given that they face an uphill battle in the election, said Jonathan Malloy, a political science professor at Carleton University.
"Traditionally, when you're behind, you attack more," he said.
Though he questioned the parallels with the U.S. election, Malloy said the Liberals are taking advantage of Ford's status as a newcomer to provincial politics. While a known figure at the municipal level, the former city councillor only won the Tory crown a month ago and has yet to clearly lay out his plans.
"(The Liberals) are trying to frame Mr. Ford before Mr. Ford's really got the chance to fully frame himself and particularly to come up with a full platform," he said.
However, the move could have unintended consequences, he said, noting the ads could instead send voters to the NDP.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story indicated that Jonathan Malloy is a political science professor at the University of Ottawa. In fact, Malloy is a professor at Carleton University.
More from HuffPost Canada: