MARKHAM, Ont.—Ontario Premier Doug Ford touted his government's accomplishments and slammed his Liberal predecessors in a campaign-style speech at a massive barbecue north of Toronto on Saturday.
Supporters lined up for free burgers and a chance to ride a ferris wheel at this year's iteration of Ford Fest, which was co-hosted by the Progressive Conservative party and took place in Markham, Ont.
When Ford took the stage a couple hours into the evening, he told the crowd that his government had accomplished more in its first year in office than any government in Ontario history.
“We have accomplished more in 12 short months than most governments achieve in an entire mandate,” he went on to say.
“Today, Ontario's back on the right track. Our hard work is paying off and our economy is on fire.”
He also rolled out one of his late brother's favourite lines, saying that his opponents were trying to “keep the gravy train going,” just as they did under the previous Liberal government.
This year's gathering comes as the Tories slump in the polls and Ford's personal popularity has taken a hit following a budget that contained many unpopular cuts.
Before Ford took the stage on Saturday, a plane flew overhead with a sign that read “Public education cannot afford Ford,” but the premier was met by enthusiastic cheers from the crowd.
“You are with us, and that is all that matters. Not the downtown insiders, not the media who criticize us at every single step—I call them the media party,” Ford told the crowd, which booed at the mention of the news media.
“You are the only ones that we answer to, and that is the people of Ontario.”
Lyne Archambault, a high school French teacher who came to the event because she's a Tory voter, said the premier's words rang true.
“Ford has made investments in education and that's not what we're hearing (in the media) so it was really nice to hear it right from his mouth that this government is making those investments,” she said.
In March, Lisa Thompson, who was education minister at the time but was demoted on Thursday to minister of government and consumer services, announced that the average high school class size will increase by six students—from 22 to 28, which will be phased in over four years.
The Conservative government has made major reforms to education since coming into power a year ago, including introducing a new sex-ed and math curriculum, revising teacher hiring practices and banning cellphones in classrooms.
Ford Fest also comes a day after the premier's chief of staff, Dean French, resigned—a departure the province said was “always planned” in spite of the fact that it came the same day that Ford rescinded the lucrative appointments of two people with reported ties to Dean French.
At Ford Fest, newly appointed Finance Minister Rod Phillips thanked French for his role, saying that his resignation statement “speaks for itself.”
“I think anybody who is in a job like that in public life—they put a lot of effort into it and I think he made the decision to move on and I'll leave it at that,” Phillips said.
Kinga Surma, who was sworn in as associate minister of transportation on Thursday, said she wishes French the best moving forward.
“I thank him for all his work in this first year, you know first year is a difficult year for a new government and he was there to help,” she said.
Ford didn't mention French in his speech.