Ontario's Liberal leader called on Wednesday for the New Democrats to stop criticizing his party's candidates, calling the strategy "desperation tactics" that he said would help the Progressive Conservatives' re-election efforts.
Steven Del Duca refused to comment when he was asked about allegations raised by the NDP that the Liberal candidate in Chatham-Kent-Leamington was fraudulently registered for next month's election, saying he wouldn't engage with "petty back-and-forth" with Andrea Horwath's party over candidate issues.
The accusations follow criticism raised by the NDP about other Liberal candidates who were dropped before the nomination deadline, leaving the Liberals without a full slate for next month's election.
"I think it's a really sad comment with 16 days left to go in this campaign that Ms. Horwath and the Ontario NDP have resorted to desperation tactics," Del Duca said at a child-care-focused announcement in Toronto.
The Liberal leader said he was "disappointed" that the New Democrats were attacking him rather than solely targeting the Tories –something he said his party was focused on.
"Every time the Ontario NDP attacks me and attacks Ontario Liberals, (Progressive Conservative Leader) Doug Ford and his team smile," Del Duca said, repeating a line he first teased at Monday night's leaders' debate. "Well, I don't want Doug Ford smiling come June 2, I want him to be shown the door."
Horwath said the candidate nomination issue is a serious one that Del Duca should respond to, not frame as an attack against him.
"He has to step up and take responsibility for these things," she said at an announcement in Kingston, Ont., on Wednesday. "How can you trust somebody to be the premier of the province if you can't trust them to follow the rules when it comes to the nomination of candidates."
The NDP wrote to Elections Ontario about the nomination issue, alleging that the Liberal candidate in the riding was nominated using signatures gathered in support of a dropped candidate. The NDP asked for an investigation into the matter.
Elections Ontario declined to comment on whether an investigation had been opened.
Meanwhile, Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford stood by a Tory candidate after a published report said he was involved with organizations that published homophobic views.
The article by PressProgress, an outlet founded and funded by the Broadbent Institute, reported that Brantford-Brant candidate Will Bouma held a leadership role in a religious organization that published a magazine that advised youth against adopting a "homosexual lifestyle."
Ford, who was speaking on NDP turf in Hamilton, said Bouma did not write the articles in question, though the Liberals, NDP and Greens all condemned the articles and their views.
Bouma commented on the story in a Twitter post saying he is "a proud, loving, and supportive father to a daughter who is a member of the LGBTQ community," and stated that his "views are clear."
"I support the rights of all of my constituents regardless of orientation. I had no involvement in writing these articles," his post read.
Ford said it's unfair to characterize Bouma as homophobic, and said people care about issues like jobs and lower taxes.
"They want to make sure that they can pay their mortgage, pay their rent and put food on the table. That's what people are concerned about and that's what this election is about: who do they trust getting the economy moving forward, and there's only one clear choice. That's the Ontario PCs." he said.
The latest revelations about candidates and escalating tensions between the Liberals and NDP came halfway through the province's election campaign, as both parties maintained that they want to form government despite recent polling suggesting that's unlikely, with Ford's Tories still in the lead.
Horwath said she's still campaigning for a majority government and brushed off questions about whether now is the time for a more unified strategy among parties on the left, maintaining her position that the NDP are progressive voters' "best shot" at defeating the Tories.
Del Duca also maintained that his party – that had seven seats at dissolution – has a realistic shot at forming government, and said he thinks voters don't want leaders to discuss "how we're going to divvy up power for ourselves" in advance of election day.
Cristine de Clercy, an associate professor of political science at Western University, said there's "no doubt" that vote-splitting on the centre-left between the Liberals and NDP would benefit the Progressive Conservatives in the race.
"The more friction and the less co-operation there is between those two groups, the better that is for Mr. Ford," she said in an interview.
De Clercy said parties typically base their election strategies on reliable data about possible areas of support, but noted that voters may tire at some point if attacks on particular candidates dominate the campaign trail discussion.
"Ontarians have, like most voters, limited tolerance for, I'm going to call it nasty politics, for some of the 'gotcha' moments that are occurring with exposing each other's candidates, for really vitriolic rhetoric rather than positive solutions," she said.
"This is true for all the main parties. They have to be a little careful in how competitive they get in pursuing the vote in these last two weeks, because it's sometimes a little bit of a movable line between being competitive and being perceived to be negative and aggressive."
- with files from Maan Alhmidi in Kingston, Nicole Thompson in Toronto and Paola Loriggio in Hamilton.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022.
Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press