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COVID rocks campaign with NDP and Greens leaders now in isolation

With two weeks to go before Election Day in Ontario and the primary election now underway, much energy was drained from that campaign on Thursday.

Two of the leaders were forced into isolation off the campaign trail after testing positive for COVID-19. Green leader Mike Schreiner turned on his virtual connections and told CP24 he tested positive on Wednesday night but said: “I’m fine.” Andrea Horwath of the NDP also sent out a press release earlier this morning confirming that she too tested positive.

Both leaders have moved their campaigns to their screens and say they will try to continue campaigning and getting their message across to voters. Election campaigns largely focus on the leaders. The party strategists build their campaigns around the leaders. With Schreiner and Horwath confining themselves to online campaigning over the next few days, all area code planning is out the window. Finding new ways for NDP and Green Party leaders to engage with voters will be the first task of these campaigns.

On Thursday afternoon, the NDP was the first to hit with a political headline that could help soften their leader’s absence. The party is now committed to reducing tolls for truckers on Highway 407. This new announcement is not included on the party’s platform. The NDP publication included quotes from their candidates in Brampton – key positions the party must win on June 2.

All the polls show that the Progressive Conservatives’ lead seems to be holding. By a solid lead, PCs are keeping Doug Ford’s campaign appearances to a minimum. Also on Thursday he only had one public event on his schedule. In Niagara Falls, Ford stuck to his campaign theme to keep building, but turned away from freeways to a bridge. Ford reiterated lines from the April budget that a new Tory government “will double the Garden City Skyway” connecting St. Catharines and Niagara-on-the-Lake. Ford did not give a timeframe for completing the project.

For the second day, Ford was asked if he was okay with his candidates refraining from participating in debates with all candidates. Ford said, “Some candidates debate and some don’t, but that’s their choice.” The Liberal Party says progressive conservative candidates have opted not to participate in at least 25 debates across all candidates.

Caitlin Clark of the PC election communications team sent a one line email response to my question about the debates.

“Our candidates are fighting hard to gain voters’ confidence in our plan to make it happen. Some candidates have chosen to attend forums for all candidates, and others have chosen to spend their time getting their message straight to voters at the door,” she said.

The only leader who fought hard on Thursday was Steven Del Duca. It was another day in the greater Toronto area with stops in Mississauga and Brampton. Day in and day out, Liberals cling to the issue of affordability and tout rides in critical GTA suburbs.

Del Duca’s attack on Ford was clearer today. The Liberal leader attacked Ford’s record as prime minister. Del Duca said Ford broke its 2018 promises to keep gas prices and housing costs down. He said the “real Ford has delivered cuts and chaos,” Del Duca told the Liberals, “won’t let you down for four years.”

COVID-19 has taken a lot of momentum from the campaign in Ontario. The nightly rallies of past campaigns are over. Even the pit stops at the lunch restaurant are few and far between. Look for the campaigns to step up TV advertising to try to make their case with voters in the final days of the campaign.

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