Ontario PC Party
The Conservatives kicked off the week with Monday’s City TV debate, which focused on issues relevant to Toronto and the GTA. Although the format was awkward for all (there were no podiums, so the leaders essentially huddled at the front of the room), Mr. Ford was seen to have held his own despite being the focus of the NDP and Liberal leaders, although at times he struggled to find his way into exchanges between them. The debate wasn’t without controversy, with news emerging that a local PC candidate had hired actors to pose as supporters outside the venue – a move that was quickly denounced by the Conservative campaign.
The Conservative campaign kicked off this week with events held in Toronto, Ottawa, and Eastern Ontario – although unlike the Liberal and NDP campaigns, there is no media bus accompanying the Conservatives on the trail. Instead, to help get the word out on their commitments, the Conservatives are largely packaging them for online consumption. The Conservatives also took aim at the Liberals, issuing a release entitled “10 Things Kathleen Wynne Would Like You to Forget”, which listed concerns over hydro rates and the sale of Hydro One, health care and education cuts, higher taxes and an increase in the debt, to name a few.
Commitments made this week include a vow to overhaul sex education curriculum, scrap the math curriculum and ensure publicly funded universities defend free speech. Doug Ford also made a commitment during Monday’s debate to provide $5 billion in transit funding for the GTA. He followed this up the next day by announcing that the Conservatives would upload responsibility for the TTC’s subway infrastructure – including the building and maintenance of new subway lines – from the city to the province. Projects to be funded include two-way all-day GO service that will include the Niagara GO expansion, phase two of the Ottawa LRT, and regional transit priorities in Mississauga, Brampton, Hamilton, London, and Kitchener-Waterloo.
The Conservatives also announced a tax cut for middle-income earners that would see a cut in the second tax bracket of 20 per cent, a move that the party said would put as much as $786 back in the pockets of taxpayers every year, with the largest benefit to those earning between $42,960 and $85,923. The Conservatives also demonstrated their quick response capabilities: during a visit by the Premier to the Yee Hong Centre for Geriatric Care on May 9th, the PCs issued a release noting the number of people on the waitlist for the facility (representing a 34-year wait) and drawing attention to the overall wait list for long-term care in the province.
The Conservative Path to Victory
As the clear front-runner in the campaign, Doug Ford and the Conservatives need to be mindful that elections matter, and that they don’t take winning for granted. The party will need to take pains not to do anything that would unwittingly reinforce negative perceptions about its leader. Mr. Ford’s path to victory lies in sticking tightly on message to his five key themes: cleaning up the hydro mess; putting money back into your pockets; restoring responsibility, accountability and trust in government; bringing jobs back to Ontario, and ending hallway health care. In doing so, the Conservatives will want to reinforce that they are the only party occupying the centre-right space, contrasting the tax and spend positioning of the NDP and Liberals with the fiscal management and respect for the taxpayer positioning of the Conservative party.
Ontario New Democratic Party
Andrea Horwath and the Ontario New Democrats launched their election campaign with a clear message for voters: If you’re tired of Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals and you want change, and if you don’t trust Doug Ford’s Conservatives, then you can choose “Change for the Better” by voting NDP.
Fresh off the first televised election debate, where Ms. Horwath told voters “you don’t have to choose between bad and worse,” the NDP Leader boarded her orange and blue campaign bus dubbed “The Chariot of the Proletariat” and took her message on the road. Her first tour stops were a health clinic in downtown Toronto where she announced plans to increase investments in public health care, and then a union gathering where Ms. Horwath focused on her plans to invest in public education, helping secure the endorsement of the province’s 81,000-member-strong Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario.
The focus of Ms. Horwath early events and even the name of her campaign bus demonstrate a strategic shift from the NDP’s previous campaign in 2014, when the party ran a negative, aggressive campaign against Ms. Wynne’s Liberals, and tacked to the centre to try and gain support from moderate voters. This time, the NDP is running a campaign with a much more hopeful and optimistic tone, focused on the type of policy ideas you would expect from social democrats. The NDP plan includes universal pharmacare, dental benefits for all Ontarians, more affordable childcare, public hydro and helping students with student debt. The NDP says it will pay for the plan by increasing taxes on high-income Ontarians, reversing some of the Liberal corporate tax cuts, and running deficits (though smaller than the Liberals say they will run).
Early public opinion research suggesting the NDP has moved ahead of the Liberals into second place has the party encouraged. Watch for the NDP to focus in the days ahead on progressive policy ideas aimed at improving services and affordability for people, and hammer home a message to convince progressive voters that voting NDP is the best way to stop the Conservatives.
The NDP Path to Victory
The 2018 election offers the Ontario NDP its best chance at forming government since the party’s victory in 1990 under Bob Rae. The party enters a campaign battlefield on which a clear majority of Ontario voters say they want change, where Ms. Horwath polls as the most well-liked and well-respected party leader, where de facto change agent Doug Ford is a polarizing figure, and where some Liberal supporters say they are willing to vote NDP to stop the Conservatives.
To win, Ms. Horwath must accomplish two goals. First, she must establish the NDP as the only party in the election that can prevent Mr. Ford and the Conservatives from forming government. Second, she must rally centre-left swing voters who would otherwise vote Liberal to support the NDP. If she succeeds at these first two goals, she will also have to withstand the withering scrutiny from her opponents, media, and the public that will come with the prospect of victory. If Ms. Horwath can accomplish these things, this last chance to lead her party to victory in a provincial election could well be her crowning achievement.
Ontario Liberal Party
Following Monday’s City TV debate during which the Liberal leader adopted a detailed, policy-oriented stance, Premier Wynne gave an impassioned speech in the Legislature on Tuesday, the last day of the 41st Parliament. She took the opportunity to look back over her last five years as Premier, touting the government’s accomplishments. She also answered a question Doug Ford had asked her in the debate about having lost her way – one that had initially bedeviled her. The Premier talked about her belief system – pushing for fairness and supports for those who need them, and fighting against cuts to vital services. Expect this to be a recurring theme underlying Liberal messaging in the weeks ahead.
The Premier then set off on a bus bearing the slogan “Care over Cuts”, with campaign stops in Toronto and the GTA, as well as Ottawa. The first stop was on Doug Ford’s home turf of Etobicoke, in a visit with seniors to re-announce the Seniors’ Healthy Homes Program that would provide a $750 a year benefit for maintenance costs to help seniors stay in their homes longer. In a nod to Nursing Week, the Premier also made an announcement at Sick Kids Hospital, pledging to hire 3,500 new nurses.
Both announcements included warnings about health care cuts that could occur under a Conservative government, with the Liberals suggesting that the Conservative pledge to find four per cent in efficiencies would translate into overall cuts ranging from $6 to $10 billion. Liberal messaging further attempted to equate the Conservative Party’s commitment to reducing the corporate income tax rate to the elimination of 12,000 nurses from the health care system.
The Liberals also spent some time calling out opposition candidates, drawing attention to the NDP candidate for Richmond Hill for comments advocating a 15 per cent across the board cut in teachers’ pay, and to the Conservative candidate for Kanata-Carleton for comments in a 2013 video advocating two-tiered health care. And in a bid to inside baseball, they also took aim at the math surrounding the Conservative pledge to increase transit funding, arguing that it represents a decrease compared to the funding in the 2018 budget. And speaking of this, while the 2018 budget is widely considered the Liberal roadmap for the election, the party is expected to release a platform that will provide additional details.
The Liberal Path to Victory
Many argue that campaigns matter – and in this case, it could not be truer for the Ontario Liberals. Facing an uphill battle in which the Liberals trail badly in public opinion polling, the best chance for the party to avoid a sweep is to position Doug Ford as a less appealing choice for undecided voters. The Liberals would need to paint a picture of Mr. Ford and the Conservatives as having a plan to drastically cut services – although this brings the risk of appearing desperate to retain government.
The best option for the Liberals is to position the Conservatives in stark contrast to Liberal plans – sticking close to the “cuts versus care” slogan adopted earlier this year. At the same time, the Liberals will need to go after the NDP in order to shore up their left flank, given that the elementary teachers’ union has now endorsed the NDP. Look for the Liberals to take a multi-track approach – talking about what’s needed to lift up the province and help people, while working to discredit the Conservatives and the NDP – as their best hope for some semblance of victory on June 7th.
This Week in the Polls
(source: Ontario Poll Tracker, as of May 10, 2018)