Speaking with reporters in Toronto, Ford lauded O’Toole and the other leadership candidates for a hard-fought race. He also said he is encouraging everyone to “rally around” O’Toole, who defeated former cabinet minister and presumed front-runner Peter MacKay on the third ballot.
But the Progressive Conservative leader of Canada’s most populous province made it clear he won’t be “getting involved” to help his federal cousins in a future campaign.
Watch: Erin O’Toole wins Conservative leadership vote
“I won’t be campaigning for anyone, like I didn’t last time either,” he said, referencing last fall’s election campaign that saw Ford on the sidelines as his name was repeatedly invoked negatively by Liberals, especially in seat-rich Ontario.
“I am so swamped right here. I’m going literally around the clock every single day and I can’t take my eye off the ball for an election or anything else.”
Laura Stone, a reporter for The Globe and Mail, noted Ford’s complimentary words for federal Liberals during the COVID-19 crisis, in particular Chrystia Freeland, the deputy prime minister and new minister of finance.
Ford said his government has a “phenomenal relationship” with the feds, and said he personally thinks the world of Freeland.
“We were able to get a lot accomplished just by communicating and collaborating… along with the prime minister, as well. And I just, I’ll work with anyone at the end of the day,” he said. “Like I say, I don’t care what political stripe you’re from. If you get elected, I’ll work with you.”
Asked why he wouldn’t try to help O’Toole’s Conservatives win seats in Ontario, particularly the battleground suburbs around the Greater Toronto Area that largely rejected the Tories last fall, Ford said he was “going to take the high road” and focus on his job.
“I wish them all the best, the federal Conservatives. I wish all the federal parties all the best. My main goal, my main focus, is to stay here in Ontario, focus on Ontario,” he said.
O’Toole has deep roots in the Ontario PC party. His father, John, was a PC MPP from 1995 to 2014. O’Toole was endorsed by a number of PC MPPs, including Deputy Premier Christine Elliott.
On Friday, Ford appeared alongside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a 3M plant in Brockville, Ont., where they announced a deal to produce Canadian-made N95 respirator masks. He made a point of saying Trudeau has done an “incredible job” as prime minister during the COVID-19 crisis.
“He was on the phone every single week asking, ‘What do you need? How can I help you?’ And you wonder why I’m always up here praising him?” Ford said.
It was a much different story, less than a year ago.
During the fall federal campaign, Trudeau repeatedly tried to tie then-Tory leader Andrew Scheer to Ford at a time when the premier’s popularity was plummeting in opinion polls. Though Scheer campaigned with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, he didn’t tap Ford for help. The Ontario premier maintained at the time that he was too busy governing to join the fray.
During a leaders’ debate in October, Trudeau told Scheer he was choosing, “just like Doug Ford, to hide your platform from Canadians and deliver cuts to services and cuts to taxes for the wealthy.”
Scheer fired back that Trudeau was “oddly obsessed with provincial politics” and should consider a run for the Ontario Liberal leadership instead.
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In the end, Trudeau’s Liberals dominated Ontario, winning 80 of the province’s 121 seats. The party’s performance in the province is a big reason they held on to power, albeit with a minority government.
O’Toole, the MP for the GTA riding of Durham since 2012, is aiming for a much better result on his home turf next time around.
In his victory speech in the early hours of Monday morning, O’Toole suggested it has been provincial leaders, not Trudeau, who have been doing the heavy lifting during the pandemic.
“Premiers across our country have shown real leadership amid the COVID-19 crisis. They were looking out for you. Justin Trudeau, (former finance minister) Bill Morneau and the Liberals showed once again that even amid a national crisis they were more interested in looking after their friends,” O’Toole said, referencing the WE Charity controversy.
O’Toole also noted Canada could “be into an election campaign as soon as this fall” and pledged his party would be ready to compete and win.
The Liberal government will present a throne speech next month that Trudeau promises will include bold measures to reflect how the country has changed because of the pandemic. If opposition MPs vote down the speech, Canadians are likely headed back to the polls.
In a tweet Monday, Trudeau congratulated O’Toole on becoming the new leader of the Official Opposition.
“I look forward to working together on the issues that matter most to Canadians across the country, and on making sure they have the support they need,” the prime minister said.
The two men also spoke by phone Monday afternoon.
Conservatives said in a media release that Trudeau congratulated O’Toole and “they had a cordial conversation” about family and public service.
“Mr. O’Toole made a point to raise western alienation and called on Mr. Trudeau to outline a plan to address real and serious national unity concerns in the Speech from the Throne,” the party said in a readout of the call shared with media.
“Mr. O’Toole also stressed the importance of parliamentary committees resuming as quickly as possible following the Speech from the Throne so that Members of Parliament can continue their investigations into the Trudeau WE Scandal and the many important studies, including the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations’ study of the situation in Hong Kong, that were suspended when the Liberals shut down Parliament.”