OTTAWA — As voters prepare to head to the polls in Ontario, federal parties that have been deeply involved in the provincial campaign will be keeping close tabs on any successes — and failures — as they prepare for the federal race in 2019.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has taken a hands-off approach, so as not to interfere in the outcome of a provincial election. But his office is quick to paint a rosy picture of the state of the province under Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne’s leadership.
“Ontarians will make their decision on who to elect as premier and (Trudeau) will work with whomever they choose. Since taking office, we have worked hard with the province of Ontario and achieved much,” said PMO press secretary Matt Pascuzzo.
“The Ontario economy has created almost 270,000 jobs, most of them full-time, and the unemployment rate is down to 5.5 per cent.”
Those comments, however, came before Wynne’s stunning admission Saturday that her party was so far back in the polls that it won’t win the election. Wynne is now pleading with voters to at least elect some Liberals in order to keep a majority Progressive Conservative or NDP government in check.
Trudeau did attend a funding announcement with Wynne in Ontario on the eve of the start to the campaign — an indication he was showing his support for Wynne’s bid for re-election, says Liberal strategist Greg MacEachern, senior vice-president of Proof Strategies.
“I think it indicates some regard that he had for Wynne and for the efforts that she gave him in the last federal election.”
But although Trudeau himself is sitting out the campaign, some of his heavyweight MPs and cabinet ministers have been rallying the troops.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott attended a campaign rally in east Toronto in May, during which both cabinet ministers praised Wynne’s leadership and predicted a Liberal win, despite polling suggesting otherwise.
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna sent an email to Liberal supporters last week calling for volunteers to help Ottawa candidate Yasir Naqvi’s re-election campaign, and had plans to canvass with him in Ottawa Centre. Former prime minister Paul Martin also joined Wynne for an event on Friday.
Behind the scenes, the Liberal team has recruited additional federal assistance, notably from Zita Astravas, who took an unpaid leave-of-absence as chief of staff to Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan. Astravas formerly worked in issues management in the PMO and used to be Wynne’s press secretary.
Hill staffers from multiple federal ministers’ offices in Ottawa have also been volunteering time to make provincial campaign phone calls.
Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford has also been getting a hand from the federal party.
His war room is filled with a number of former Stephen Harper government insiders, including Ford’s campaign manager Kory Teneycke, who worked as Harper’s director of communications, and Jenni Byrne, who ran Harper’s campaigns in 2011 and 2015, and is now Ford’s director of field operations. Ford also received a show of support in a tweet from Harper himself.