Last Week’s Highlights
- We’ve passed the midway mark of the campaign, and with advance polls having opened this weekend, early voting is now underway.
- As we reach the end of the campaign’s third week, all signs suggest that the NDP’s momentum is holding.
- As Ontario anticipated the third and final debate Sunday night, Ford’s PCs and Horwath’s NDP were in a virtual deadlock in the polls, with media beginning to speculate that the NDP could be headed towards a majority on June 7th. With fewer than eleven days to go, scrutiny has shifted to Horwath. Both Ford and Wynne have turned their sights on the NDP, their party’s platform costing issues, as well as the spectre of a return to the “Rae Days,” hoping to drive down the party’s surging poll numbers.
- It was a frustrating week for the PCs as Ford and his team saw their lead slip. While they now are edging back ahead of the NDP, most experts favour the PCs to win more seats if both parties earn a roughly equal popular vote. Despite simmering news stories like the 407 ETR data breach and accusations of Ford skirting candidate nomination rules, the majority of Ford’s support is holding steady, and his core supporters are unlikely to be dislodged. His challenge will be appealing to the remaining undecideds. Perhaps the release of the PC’s long-promised, costed platform will attract those voters and suck up much of the remaining media oxygen before Election Day.
- The Liberals are facing tough riding-by-riding re-election battles and polling lows not seen in almost a century. On Saturday, they released their full campaign platform – which echoes many of the same elements laid out in their 2018 Ontario budget, while committing any future surpluses to pay down the provincial debt – with the hope it may change hearts and minds of the “Never Ford” crowd before it’s too late. Hoping to bring undecided voters into the Liberal fold, the Wynne campaign is now targeting Horwath and the NDP as much as the PCs, arguing for a steady middle path, and promoting the Liberal record on education, minimum wage, the environment and infrastructure, rather than playing defence.
- This is undoubtedly one of the most polarized provincial elections in recent memory. While most elections are a referendum on the government and its policies, this year’s contest has become something different. Many voters entered the election with a firm desire for change, but that change was assumed to be from Kathleen Wynne to Doug Ford, not Andrea Horwath and the NDP. Polls suggest that voters who feel alienated by the Liberals, but also uncomfortable with the thought of a Ford premiership, may be finding Horwath “just right.”
- The key question remains – where will undecided voters go? Will they rally to Ford and his bold assurance of change, shift behind the NDP as the softer change alternative, make a late-breaking move to the Liberal fold, or simply stay home?
- With less than two weeks left in the campaign, all three leaders and their respective campaigns zeroed in on the final televised debate as their opportunity to make a clear pitch to the single largest audience of voters during the election.
- Doug Ford came in with a game plan to go back to basics. Avoiding the bait from his opponents and sidestepping some tough questions, Ford repeatedly returned to his core pitch – that a PC government will usher in an era of economic prosperity and smaller government while keeping more money in voters’ pockets. The PC campaign’s concern about a rising NDP was palpable. Ford was, at times, almost congenial with Kathleen Wynne in a consistent effort to paint the NDP as “ten times worse”.
- Kathleen Wynne used the final debate as an opportunity to make an assertive defence of her record as Premier – with mixed results. At times, she was able to effectively “break the fourth wall” to connect with voters, with her “sorry/not sorry” introduction particularly effective. At other points, she found herself awkwardly defending positions well to the right of the NDP, potentially by design. Wynne went out of her way to frame the Liberals as the practical middle-ground choice between two ideologically-driven opponents. In doing so, she seems to be counting on voters worn out by the polarization of this campaign. It’s a big gamble to sell moderation in what remains a change election.
- Andrea Horwath brought a fiery performance to the debate, displaying a passionate indignation towards both the Liberals and the PCs. Horwath left no attack unchallenged, often talking over the other candidates and the moderators, while sarcastically rebutting attacks from both Ford and Wynne. Striking a populist tone, Horwath strove to position both her opponents as working on behalf of corporate and moneyed interests, with the NDP as the champion of the struggling middle class. But lost in the process was the hopeful and optimistic energy that Horwath had brought to the previous debates, which has resonated with many voters weary of “politics as usual” from the PCs and Liberals.
- As is usually the case in these debates, there was no knockout blow, and all campaigns will feel that their candidates accomplished what they needed to in the debate. Debates are more often won or lost in the days that follow, as the media and talking heads shape the narrative for many voters who did not watch the event live.
- Amidst tough poll numbers and yet another candidate nomination scandal – this time implicating Ford himself – Ford avoided taking the bait and soldiered on.
- Ford and the PCs instead unveiled significant announcements aimed at the heart of PC territory, including the expansion of the Risk Management Program for farmers, the return of “buck a beer” prices, and a commitment to expand natural gas, broadband and cell service in rural communities.
- Ford’s debate performance correctly stayed laser-focused on his pitch to voters, promising prosperity “for the people” and emphasizing elements of the past NDP and Liberal governments unlikely to sit well with voters, while posing a simple question: “Who do you trust with your money?”
- Ford also assured voters that not a single job would be lost with him at the helm. Until he releases a fully costed platform, questions remain as to how exactly he can deliver on this promise. Ford has committed to releasing the PC platform before Election Day – which might just be what the PCs need to get the attention back where they want it: on their retail-friendly policy commitments.
- With a steady barrage of opposition research, the veterans of the Wynne campaign have turned the election into a referendum on Doug Ford as Premier – unfortunately, of little benefit to Liberal poll numbers.
- Voters who are hungry for change but uncomfortable with Ford appear to be choosing the NDP rather than settling for the binary choice between the Liberals and the PCs.
- While Wynne hit the right notes in the debate, there is little sign thus far that voters are willing to give her and the Liberals another chance.
- Liberal candidates across Ontario will be closely watching the polls in the days after the final debate. Unless there are signs of a shift of voters willing to give the Liberals a lifeline, expect to see many candidates taking serious stock of whether it has reached the point of becoming “everyone for themselves.”
- Building support since the start of the campaign, Andrea Horwath has begun to pull ahead of Doug Ford in the polls. With frontrunner status comes greater scrutiny, and Horwath now faces an increased focus on candidate blowouts and platform math – problems which have too often cast a fatal curse on NDP campaigns in Ontario and across the country.
- However, NDP campaigns do sometimes break the curse, and there is reason to believe this might be one of them. Like Alberta’s Rachel Notley in 2015, Horwath polls highest on leadership favourability in a change election facing a centrist incumbent who’s run out of gas and a Conservative heir apparent who many voters just aren’t comfortable with. In Alberta, the resulting stampede to punish the Progressive Conservatives but stop the Wildrose built into a wave where nobody much cared about questionable Facebook posts and platform details amid the momentum and excitement. Notley admitted to a multi-billion dollar platform miscalculation – but kept going up in the polls.
- In the coming days, we’ll see if the current attacks on Horwath start to stick. If they do, expect the race to shift into a tight and unpredictable nail-biter. If they don’t, that’s an indication that the breakaway momentum which carried Notley in 2015 and lifted Jack Layton in 2011 might bring an Orange Crush to Ontario in 2018.
Account Director, Western Canada
Horse Race – Most Recent Polls
Quotes of the Week
“Go to your employer on Monday and ask them one question from Doug Ford: ‘What would happen to my job, if God forbid, the NDP ever got in?’ I know the answer, it’d be gone.”
– Doug Ford, Leader, PC Party
In regards to the affordability of the NDP’s plan during the final Leader’s debate.
“Here’s what I want to say about the last five years. Sorry, not sorry. I’m really genuinely sorry that more people don’t like me. But I’m not sorry about all the things we’re doing in Ontario to make life better.”
Kathleen Wynne, Leader, Liberal Party
Reflecting on her record as Premier during her introductory statement in the final Leader’s debate.
“People started voting yesterday, Mr. Ford. Where is your platform, where is your respect for the people now when they’re already at the polls and you haven’t provided them any information about what it is that you plan to do in our Province? What are you going to cut, what is going to suffer?”
Andrea Horwath, Leader, NDP
While discussing the credibility of the PC platform during the final Leader’s debate.
The Lighter Side
- If you’re keeping track of endorsements, there was a big one last week from former Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion. “Hurricane” Hazel, a long-time backer of both Kathleen Wynne and her predecessor Dalton McGuinty, surprised many by endorsing PC Leader Doug Ford as the best choice to lead Ontario. However, she wasn’t done there. On the very same day, she endorsed Charles Sousa, the current Liberal Minister of Finance, leaving many journalists confused and all of us with ‘A Tale of Two Endorsements’
- As the leaders criss-cross the province, they hold many campaign events in “unfriendly” territory where they hope to pick up seats. While leaders are used to tongue-in-cheek shenanigans from the opposing campaigns (remember “the Count” from 2014?), sometimes candidates themselves get into the act. Andrea Horwath had a taste of this firsthand, as current Liberal Candidate Shafiq Qaadri crashed an event at a restaurant in his North Etobicoke riding. The intrusion was enough to interrupt the event and earned Qaadri a scolding from Horwath and disapproval from his boss, Premier Wynne – generating some of his highest-profile media coverage since being elected in 2003.