Liberals under Justin Trudeau and progressive conservatives under Prime Minister Doug Ford quietly agreed to a nonaggression pact for the Sept. 20 election, Star learned.

In stark contrast to the 2019 campaign, when Trudeau attacked Ford almost daily, the federal liberals do not plan to obsess over the conservative prime minister.

“We are not going against Doug Ford,” a senior liberal said Monday, speaking confidentially to discuss internal strategic talks.

Senior Progressive Conservative officials confirm that there have been productive conversations with ruling Liberals about the shared priorities of the two leaders, and keeping the powder dry.

“We are too busy fighting COVID-19 to fight federal liberals,” said a top Ford confidant.

“We have been pushing not to get into this fight. The Trudeau Liberals and Ford Conservatives shared about 15 percent of the electorate, so we represent many of the same districts, ”the official said.

Another senior provincial conservative agreed that “this is not our fight.”

“If some (liberal) candidates take photos of the prime minister, we will turn the other cheek,” said the second insider, warning that “we have a lot of money to fight and a lot of tools, but we don’t want to fight.”

That’s an apparent reference to a $ 3 million war chest that the provincial party set aside for a possible publicity blitz during the federal campaign.

Similarly, Trudeau’s team insisted they are not seeking a repeat of the 2019 election when federal liberals targeted Ford in Ontario more than then-federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer.

“We have worked closely with Conservative Prime Ministers across the country during the pandemic, including Premier Ford,” Senior Grit said.

“And we are looking to work with Premier Ford to provide $ 10 a day child care for Ontario families and we believe we can do it together,” the source said, referring to ongoing negotiations between Ottawa and Queen’s Park.

The liberal stressed that we are in a “very different” time from two years ago.

“In 2019, they took us to court (for the federal carbon pricing scheme) and had petrol pump stickers attacking us for climate change. In any case, we had to fight back (at the time). “

His comment touched on Ford’s failed Supreme Court challenge to Trudeau’s climate plan and the province’s mandatory stickers on gas pumps that read “the federal carbon tax will cost you.”

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After a legal challenge by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, an Ontario court ruled last September that the stickers were unconstitutional.

Liberal and conservative insiders insist it’s all water under the bridge thanks to a COVID-19 pandemic, which forced Trudeau and Ford to work together.

“This is like a 1945 election, it’s that momentous,” said the liberal, noting that, like the post-World War II era, governments must cooperate to rebuild.

With an election in Ontario scheduled for June 2, 2022, the Ford team is not interested in wasting valuable political capital on a federal campaign.

“We want (the prime minister) to stay out of it. We don’t mean to be mean to the (federal) conservatives, but again, this is not our fight. “

Another change in circumstances is that public opinion polls suggest that Ford is more popular now than it was in 2019.

That June, he was booed at the Toronto Raptors’ NBA championship victory celebration in Nathan Phillips Square, while Trudeau and Mayor John Tory were cheered.

But since the pandemic occurred in March 2020, Ford’s polls have largely rebounded and he has shared the stage with Trudeau at several high-profile events, including a year ago when they teamed up to launch the national manufacturing of ventilation masks. 3M N95 in Brockville.

“Do you wonder why I’m always up here praising him? Because he did an incredible job as prime minister, “the prime minister said at the time, adding that Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland also” did an incredible job. “

“People expected us to put aside our differences, put aside politics and work together, and that’s exactly what we did,” Ford said Aug. 21.

When Trudeau promoted Freeland to finance minister last summer, the prime minister called it an “astonishing” appointment, a statement that neutralized criticism from federal conservatives of the confusion.

Still, relations have not been entirely warm and fuzzy with the two leaders this year.

At the height of the third wave in May, Conservatives spent $ 2 million on a publicity blitz urging Trudeau to tighten controls at borders and airports to prevent travelers from bringing more COVID-19 to Canada.

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While the liberal leader complained that the ads were “personal attacks,” his team admitted that the television commercials were effective.

That was one of the reasons Ottawa did so much of what Queen’s Park demanded.

Political implications aside, the conservative provincial commercials were a salvo to remind federal liberals that Ford would play tough if necessary in an election.

“It just let them know that we were serious,” said Ford’s confidant.

During the last campaign, the prime minister served as Trudeau’s punching bag, in a press conference he mentioned Ford 14 times, at the same time that he was persona non grata to Scheer’s conservatives.

Scheer even held an event a 10-minute walk from Ford’s house in Etobicoke, but did not invite him or mention his name from the podium.

To compound the insult, Alberta Prime Minister Jason Kenney, then far more popular than he is now, flew to Ontario to campaign for the federal conservatives.

Ford’s unhappiness with the treatment he received from the Scheer campaign has morphed into disregard for federal conservative leader Erin O’Toole.

While his two parents, Doug Ford, Sr. and John O’Toole, were Conservative MPs together between 1995 and 1999, they are not close.

Partly because of that, Ford has ruled that Tory cabinet ministers, MPPs and senior staff must also “stay out” of federal elections.

“At the riding and personal level, you can help at the local level,” said the senior official. “But it has become clear that this is not our choice.”

Robert Benzie is the bureau chief for Star’s Queen’s Park and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

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