Ontario PC leader Doug Ford fancies himself a ‘man of the people’, a brand that dates back to his time at Toronto City Council running the city with his late brother, the former mayor Rob Ford.
If you’ve ever experienced one of the Ford family’s annual barbeque events, known as Ford Fest, you will see a number of people across the political spectrum attending by the thousands to come up, take pictures and shake his hand. Ford has built his political profile on that populist appeal.
Something like that is hard to manufacture, let alone artificially create. But apparently that’s what happened during the first provincial leaders debate that took place on Monday.
Prior to the debate, this job posting was circulated by a company called ‘Castme’:
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The Castme background agency solicited people to stand outside the downtown studio to make it seem as if the PC leader had more admirers than he actually did. ‘Cartwright’ refers to the local PC candidate for the riding of Toronto Centre, Meredith Cartwright.
Ford’s spokesperson later issued this statement:
“Doug Ford has attracted record crowds since entering the race for PC leader. This has become even stronger since winning the leadership. A local candidate made a decision to engage a casting agency. This was unnecessary and a mistake. It will not happen again,” spokeswoman Melissa Lantsman said.
Ford himself said he didn’t know anything about people being hired and didn’t think it was necessary, saying his events are always packed to standing room only. He also said he would be discussing the issue with Cartwright.
But if it makes people who are not PC voters feel better, Toronto Centre is traditionally a Liberal stronghold; the Conservatives only won around 18 per cent of the vote in 2014, so the chances of them flipping it are quite minimal.
Having loyal party activists and volunteers at your events is nothing new, but it’s not common that you would have to pay people to do so.
This is reminiscent of the story that Donald Trump’s campaign had paid actors to cheer him as he descended from the escalator at Trump Tower to begin his presidential campaign in 2015.
I guess Ford and Trump have that one thing in common.
Let’s hope for the sake of a robust and healthy democracy, these little gaffes become minor distractions as Ontarians get ready to decide who will govern this province in the next four years.