Ontario Premier Doug Ford had no events or meetings scheduled on at least five weekdays during the federal election campaign, according to information obtained by CBC News.
Ford stayed mostly out of sight from Ontarians from the start of the election campaign on Sept. 11 until the Legislature resumed sitting on Monday, one week after election day.
During the two news conferences he has held in the past two months — both in northern Ontario — the Progressive Conservative premier said he wasn't involved in the federal campaign because he was "busy governing" and said his staff were working him "like a rented mule."
In response to queries from CBC News about Ford's schedule, the premier's office provided a day-by-day list of his activities from his attendance at the International Plowing Match on Sept. 17 until the final week of the election campaign.
The list shows no events on Thursday, Sept. 19; Tuesday, Oct. 1; Wednesday, Oct. 2; Thursday, Oct. 10 and Friday, Oct. 11. His only event listed on Oct. 3 was in the evening, a $600 per plate fundraiser in Sudbury for his Ontario PC Party.
On five other weekdays — Sept. 18, 24, 26, 27 and 30 — the list simply says either "briefings," "meetings," or "briefings and meetings" with no further detail.
Ford also presided over cabinet meetings every other week during the campaign: Sept. 12, Sept. 25 and Oct. 9. The full list appears below.
Ford's near-disappearance during the campaign was part of a deliberate strategy by his handlers to keep him out of the media spotlight, according to provincial and federal Conservative sources who spoke on condition of anonymity. They say the strategy was motivated by two factors: trying to reverse Ford's sharp slide in public opinion and trying to limit the damage-by-association to Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.
With the exception of advising the media of his occasional news conferences and photo opportunities, Ford's office does not publish his public itinerary in advance, unlike past premiers. Over the past year, CBC News has used Ontario's freedom of information law to obtain copies of his appointment calendar after the fact, typically with a lag time of one to two months. CBC has filed a request for Ford's full calendar through the federal election campaign period.
During the campaign, Ford's officials advised reporters in advance of his Sept. 20 trip to Ohio along with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney to meet Gov. Mike DeWine and to attend a roundtable of an organization called North American Strategy for Competitiveness. Advance notice was also given of Ford's attendance at an Oct. 6 memorial ceremony for firefighters and his Oct. 16-18 trip to Kenora and Thunder Bay.
Other events on the list provided show Ford attending charity events, weekend community barbecues and just two media interviews: Oct. 15 with CIRV 88.9 RedFM, a multicultural radio station in Brampton; and Oct. 8 with TCN TV, an online-only outlet catering to the Caribbean community in the Toronto area.
Since shuffling his cabinet on June 20, more than four months ago, Ford has held just one full-fledged news conference in the provincial capital.
"The premier was obviously trying to stay out of trouble by just staying away," said Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath in an interview Monday. "For that number of weeks to go by and Ontarians not hear 'boo' from their premier, I think it's pretty clear that was on purpose and he was just trying to avoid any kind of communication that would have put the spotlight on him."
Interim Ontario Liberal leader John Fraser criticized Ford's recent schedule and his decision to extend the legislature's summer recess. "I've worked for one premier and I've worked with one premier, and I know what their schedules were like, and they were never like that," Fraser said Monday. "There's a lot of stuff that needs to be dealt with and for us to be not here dealing with that, it's just simply wrong."
Mike Schreiner, leader of Ontario's Green Party, said Ford should make his schedule public.
"He said during the [provincial] campaign he would be transparent and accountable to people," Schreiner said at the legislature. "But if you're going to hide your schedule and essentially hide from the media, then you're essentially hiding from the people of Ontario."
Ford has travelled to more than 80 communities and attended nearly 200 events in the past few months, said his press secretary Ivana Yelich.
"He spends every day talking and listening to people from across the province about what our government can do to make life easier and more affordable for all Ontarians," said Yelich in a statement emailed to CBC News.
Twitter provides further evidence of Ford's whereabouts during the campaign. On Tuesday Oct. 8, he was in the Credit River and toured the construction site of the Eglinton Crosstown rapid transit in Toronto.
Nice to have Ontario’s Premier and Minister of Natural Resources assisting fisheries work in the Credit River yesterday. They helped Ministry staff collect Chinook salmon eggs that will be raised at the Ministry’s fish hatchery over the winter, and stocked in 2020. <a href="https://t.co/ViIMsbTsLS">pic.twitter.com/ViIMsbTsLS</a>
I had a great tour of Eglinton <a href="https://twitter.com/CrosstownTO?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CrosstownTO</a> facilities with <a href="https://twitter.com/Metrolinx?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Metrolinx</a>, joined by <a href="https://twitter.com/C_Mulroney?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@C_Mulroney</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/KingaSurmaMPP?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@KingaSurmaMPP</a>. We're supporting the largest transit expansion in Toronto’s history as part of our plan to create a truly regional transit system that gets Ontario moving! <a href="https://t.co/AM3GXJVVhf">pic.twitter.com/AM3GXJVVhf</a>
On Oct. 7, Ford met RoseAnne Archibald, leader of the Chiefs of Ontario, the advocacy group for 133 First Nations in the province.
Thank you <a href="https://twitter.com/ORCRoseAnne?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ORCRoseAnne</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/ChiefsofOntario?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ChiefsofOntario</a> for joining us at Queen's Park today to discuss priorities that matter to our First Nations communities. <a href="https://t.co/EdHoa1xXwI">pic.twitter.com/EdHoa1xXwI</a>
In late September, Ford made a few unannounced appearances at events with fellow Progressive Conservative MPPs.
Great to meet so many wonderful people in Scarborough today at the <a href="https://twitter.com/Christina_Mitas?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Christina_Mitas</a> MPP community BBQ! <a href="https://t.co/RJZmIGnRq8">pic.twitter.com/RJZmIGnRq8</a>
Thrilled to be in Mississauga today with <a href="https://twitter.com/RodPhillips01?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@RodPhillips01</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/stcrawford2?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@stcrawford2</a> for <a href="https://twitter.com/krasheedmpp?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@krasheedmpp</a>'s community BBQ! <a href="https://t.co/rUYSb99wvS">pic.twitter.com/rUYSb99wvS</a>
On Sept. 23, a CBC reporter and cameraperson crossed paths with Ford at a bakery in Toronto, a day that Ford also had a meeting with Big Brothers and Big Sisters in Etobicoke.
Premier <a href="https://twitter.com/fordnation?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@fordnation</a> office does not issue a daily itinerary so unless they put out an advisory for an event, media don’t know what he’s up to...unless you happen to run into him like I did today at <a href="https://twitter.com/UnitedBakersTO?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@UnitedBakersTO</a> where I was talking to voters <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/elxn43?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#elxn43</a> <a href="https://t.co/FP1uDmsxNe">pic.twitter.com/FP1uDmsxNe</a>
Here is a list of Premier Doug Ford's events from Sept. 17 to Oct. 18, as provided to CBC News by his press secretary:
- Sept. 17 - International Plowing Match and Expo, Verner, Ont.
- Sept. 18 - Briefings and Meetings.
- Sept. 20 - NASCO Business Roundtable, NASCO Fireside Chat with Premier Kenney, and Multilateral with Premier Kenney and Governor Mike DeWine.
- Sept. 21 - Richmond Hill Deputy Mayor Carmine Perrelli's First Annual City Fest, MPP Kaleed Rasheed's First Summer End.
- Sept. 22 - Pink Diamond Gala.
- Sept. 23 - Big Brothers Big Sisters of Toronto Tour, Briefings and Meetings.
- Sept. 24 - Briefings and Meetings.
- Sept. 25 - Briefings and Meetings, including Cabinet.
- Sept. 26 - Meetings.
- Sept. 27 - Briefings and Meetings.
- Sept. 28 - A-Supreme Foundation Grand Charity Gala.
- Sept. 29 - MPP Christina Mitas Community BBQ.
- Sept. 30 - Briefings.
- Oct. 3 - Sudbury PC Party Fundraiser.
- Oct. 4 - Briefings, CIBPA 67th Annual President's Ball.
- Oct. 6 - Ontario Fallen Fire Fighters Memorial.
- Oct. 7 - Briefings and Meetings, including a Meeting with Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnn Archibald and Grand Chiefs.
- Oct. 8 - Meetings, Metrolinx Tour, Chinook Salmon and Egg Collection Tour, In-Studio Interview with TCN TV Network.
- Oct. 9 - Briefings and Meetings, including Cabinet.
- Oct. 14 - Salvation Army Thanksgiving Food Drop.
- Oct. 15 - Briefings and Meetings, Interview with CIRV-FM 88.9 RedFM.
- Oct. 16 - Announcement and news conference, Kenora.
- Oct. 17 - Announcement and photo opportunity, Kenora.
- Oct. 18 - Announcement and photo opportunity, Thunder Bay.