LILLEY: Ford targets blue-collar support on Horwath’s Steeltown turf

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Doug Ford was on a podium Wednesday morning with Hamilton Harbor behind him.

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A tug floated in the water at the Heddle shipyard while in the distance you could see Stelco, one of the city’s industrial gems.

This was prime industrial real estate in the heart of Andrea Horwath’s hometown and constituency.

“I’m proud to have so many people supporting our vision, including workers from across Ontario,” said Ford.

He was beaming after earning his fifth and sixth endorsements from unions representing construction and industrial workers. The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transport Workers had endorsed Ford earlier in the morning. Soon after, the Ontario Pipe Trades Council, a union representing more than 20,000 workers in plumbing, welding and HVAC, among other skills, was approved.

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In total, Ford has received endorsements from blue-collar unions representing well over 100,000 workers in recent weeks with more expected to arrive on Election Day. He fired directly at the NDP over blue collar workers supporting the Conservatives.

“It’s no surprise that workers stopped supporting them because years ago the NDP stopped supporting workers,” Ford said.

Campaigning in Kingston, Horwath was asked about Ford’s bold move which she rejected.

“Mr. Ford likes to pretend he’s there for the working person. That’s not true,” she said.

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She went on to detail the support she received from the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, the Ontario Federation of Labor and even the Steelworkers. The latter is problematic for Horwath on more than one front.

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In the Hamilton East Stoney Creek riding, his local NDP candidate, Zaigham Butt, takes on Paul Miller, who held the NDP riding for 15 years before Horvath kicked him out of the party. Miller, a steelworker himself before entering politics, has the support of Local 1005, the United Steelworkers branch representing those who work on the line at Stelco.

The other problem she will have is that when Ford visited Stelco for a photo shoot, he was mobbed by members of Local 1005 who wanted to take a picture with him. His quickly planned visit to Stelco’s Z-Line extended as he spoke to the gathered workers as a group and as individuals answering questions and getting those selfies.

“I voted for him last time, I’m still voting for him,” Charles told me, as he watched on the sidelines of Ford’s meeting with workers.

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Derek said he doesn’t like the direction the Liberals and NDP are taking and will support Ford once again.

“Electric vehicles will not be enough. The price of gas is too expensive. We can’t afford tax hikes,” Derek said.

The workers I spoke to made their support for Ford clear. It may have been a self-selected group, but if so, it was a large group in an industrial setting and in a city where Horwath should be dominant.

As she and her party take Hamilton’s heart, Ford’s PCs took the suburban outer crown last time out and look set to do the same this election, perhaps even pushing Hamilton East Stoney Creek away from the NDP. . It would be an embarrassing situation for Horwath if that happened, but it should also be embarrassing for her that she is in third place in all recent opinion polls.

The NDP leader put on a brave face and said she was running to be prime minister on June 2 and was running to win. The long line of photos of steelworkers in his own riding waiting for a photo with Ford would tell a different story.

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