Last Week’s Highlights

  • We’re now in the dog days of the campaign, with all parties trying to score “gotcha” moments at their opponent’s expense. This familiar exercise saw both Ford and Horwath grilled by reporters this week about several of their respective party’s candidates.
  • In lieu of a campaign platform, PC Leader Doug Ford has unveiled a string of retail, pocketbook-friendly announcements that have consistently grabbed headlines, including cuts to the gas tax and small business tax, beer and liquor in convenience stores, and dental care for low-income seniors. Ford’s ability to stay on message has helped steer a steady course for the PC campaign despite candidate-related brouhahas that flared up over the course of the week. But concerns about those candidate statements, the difficulty for Ford’s appeal to break through beyond his core support, and the absence of an overall platform with validated costing may be starting to creep in, as recent polls show some slippage in Tory support (though with wide variation between polls, as we’ve come to expect).
  • Kathleen Wynne, always a tenacious and dogged campaigner, is ploughing ahead despite media skepticism and difficulty breaking through the noise. Looking to improve Liberal fortunes, her week focused on positive re-iteration of popular Liberal policies such as the plan to offer free pre-school child care – further reflected in slick new TV ads (absent Kathleen Wynne). All the while, the Liberal campaign has been trying to shake-up the trajectory of the race, unloading or capitalizing on a steady stream of opposition research. The Premier herself delivered a broadside against the PC Leader ahead of the holiday weekend in the wake of emerging stories about a 407 ETR data breach potentially linked to a self-styled PC operative.
  • Polls show consistently that the early NDP surge was no blip on the radar. The party continues to gain on the PCs, largely drawing voters from the Liberal and undecided columns, while also attracting a few PC supporters uncomfortable with Ford. With this success comes a growing level of scrutiny and pressure on NDP Leader Andrea Horwath from both her opponents and an increasingly attentive media. Not to be outdone by Ford, Horwath promised gas price relief that goes even further than the PCs by committing to introduce price caps at the pumps on holiday weekends – at least to start. Horwath’s travel schedule has targeted areas well beyond areas of traditional party strength, which is always a sign of confidence. However, no campaign goes entirely as planned, and Horwath was forced to admit to a $1.4 billion error in the party’s platform costing, providing ammunition to their opponents’ attacks on the NDP’s competence to govern.
  • With all three major party leaders unveiling transportation-related aspects of their platforms in ridings key to the success of their respective campaigns, it was easy to see where the campaigns were looking to shore up or lock down support. Horwath reiterated support for a downtown relief line to persuade progressive Toronto voters contemplating an NDP vote; Ford promised to reduce the provincial gas tax by $0.10 per litre in a direct appeal to middle-class suburban voters in the GTA and beyond; and Wynne outlined funding for the Ottawa LRT project and promised to end ‘postal code discrimination’ in auto insurance if re-elected – both reflecting an effort to shore up traditionally strong Liberal bastions in Ottawa and the inner suburbs of Toronto.

Counsel’s Take

PCs
  • The slogan usually rings true: campaigns matter. However, despite a few missteps involving candidates, and even a whiff of scandal, the campaign overall has held steady.
  • Notwithstanding accusations from both the Liberals and NDP over “flip flopping” on hot button issues like repealing rent control and permitting development in the Greenbelt (for which Ford seems to have paid no price in the polls), reversing his views has only enhanced the credibility of Ford’s “for the people” pitch to his voters, who feel he is listening and responding.
  • The PCs have effectively tapped into feelings among many Ontario voters that the Liberals under Kathleen Wynne are not only out-of-touch, but ideologically rigid and unwilling to admit mistakes or change unpopular decisions until it becomes politically expedient to do so.
  • With more than three weeks to go, Ford has to keep internal party controversies from taking over the narrative. Expect him to continue to focus on his core principle – to be in it for the people – and protect his strong lead in the polls.
  • One potential risk – the price tag. While Ford and his campaign have been able to roll out a steady stream of popular tax cuts and other policies, the growing cost and corresponding loss in revenue may lead to more scrutiny about how a PC government plans to pay for it all – and what may have to be cut to do it.

Charles Harnick
Principal

Liberals
  • The existential question facing the Liberals this election is clear: can Wynne’s voice break through and be heard, or have people simply stopped listening?
  • While there’s no doubt Wynne works tirelessly, and the media are not shy in praising her know-how and capability for the job, there appears to be a nagging sense among many voters that she (despite the slogan) no longer cares, or doesn’t care for “them”. Finding an answer to this riddle is what her campaign team is trying to do, and what needs to happen for the Liberals to somehow fight their way back.
  • With the Liberals stuck in third (and many media outlets prematurely writing Wynne’s political obituary), the Liberal tour is focused on reinforcing seats they currently hold, knowing their chances of winning new territory are likely gone.
  • If trends continue, the notion of an NDP-Liberal coalition will get more attention as the party’s best bet to protect the progress made in environmental and social policy. Although Horwath has rejected the notion of a coalition, the Liberals have not ruled out the possibility. It will continue to pop up so long as the prospect of a Ford-led minority government seems possible.

Carol Mitchell
Principal

NDP
  • It was another solid week for the Ontario NDP, with a firm hold on second place and moving towards a virtual tie with the PCs in the polls.
  • Following Horwath’s impressive start last week, the party is now in the daily exercise of trying to maintain the momentum they’ve achieved so far. They’re trying to stay ahead of the curve by rolling out impactful events – and a rally with Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh on Victoria Day is certainly one way to capture the media’s attention and fire up the emboldened NDP faithful.
  • All parties are looking to find and bring out new and occasional voters. With a recent poll reporting 43% of millennials saying they are “very likely” to vote in the provincial election, the question of whether the NDP can successfully tap into the youth vote (which rose by a whopping 18% in the 2015 federal election) will become increasingly relevant in the weeks ahead if the “anyone but Ford” vote continues to coalesce behind Horwath.

Brad Lavigne
Principal and VP
Senior NDP Campaign Advisor

Horse Race – Most Recent Polls

 

 

Quotes of the Week

“I believe in doing what’s convenient for the people, and not what’s convenient for the government.”

May 18th
Doug Ford, Leader, PC Party
As part of an announced commitment to expand
beer and wine sales to convenience stores if elected.

 

“Slogans are not policy […] and if I’m found wanting because I don’t have a clear enough bumper sticker, so be it.” 

May 15th
Kathleen Wynne, Leader, Liberal Party
In response to CBC reporter Mike Crawley, who asked if communicating
more like Ford would benefit her re-election prospects.

 

“People want to have the kind of leadership that isn’t afraid to be honest about making a mistake like this.”

May 20th
Andrea Horwath, Leader, NDP
In apologizing for a $1.4 billion error in the NDP platform’s costing.

The Lighter Side

In keeping with the long-held tradition, the media has once again taken to nick-naming the respective campaign buses. This election has elicited some cheeky results:

  • Liberals: The Care-avan
  • PC: The Folks Wagon
  • NDP: The Proletariat Chariot
  • Greens: The Lean Green Machine