Ontario PC Party
This week on the campaign trail saw the Conservatives continue their focus on populist, pocketbook issues. Fresh from promising beer and wine in corner stores, Doug Ford announced plans to exempt Royal Canadian Legion branches in Ontario from property tax—while taking aim at an NDP candidate for refusing to wear a poppy on Remembrance Day. Mr. Ford also announced several measures aimed at supporting farmers and families in rural communities—including increasing funding for the Risk Management Program, allowing private sector participation in the expansion of natural gas, and investing $100 million to deliver cellular and broadband expansion across rural and northern Ontario.
With the NDP surging in the polls, the Conservatives spent much of the week focused on Andrea Horwath and her team of candidates. They took aim at an NDP promise to shut down the Pickering Nuclear station, a move that would cut 4,500 jobs from Durham Region—information gleaned from the NDP response to an election questionnaire put out by the Ontario Clean Air Alliance. The Conservatives also launched a website—meetthendp.ca—in a move designed to introduce Ontarians to “The Real NDP”. The Conservatives are using the site to position the NDP party as one that is run by “radical downtown special interests”, including “anti-poppy activists, professional protesters, crusaders against mining jobs and 9/11 truthers”, by calling out controversial comments made by NDP candidates over the years. The Conservatives also called for the NDP candidate in Scarborough-Agincourt to resign for having shared a neo-Nazi meme on Facebook in 2013. The ultimate goal for the Conservatives is to position the NDP team as not ready for prime time, and to plant seeds of doubt in the minds of voters who appear to be flocking to the party’s side.
Controversy continued to trail the Conservatives this week. The 407 ETR data breach story gained traction in the media, with Doug Ford facing questions at campaign stops throughout the week about whether any other candidates had used the stolen information in their nominations or campaigns. Later in the week, an audio recording surfaced suggesting that in 2016, Mr. Ford had purchased memberships in support of a candidate’s nomination.
The Conservatives have run a classic front-runner campaign so far, sticking to the party’s main themes and hammering home the messaging “change is coming and help is on the way” to voters looking for a wholesale change in government. That narrative has taken a bit of a hit with the controversy over the 407 ETR data breach, and there are continued questions about when (or whether) the Conservatives will issue a platform before election day—both issues that provide fodder for opposition attacks. It remains to be seen whether the Conservatives’ laser focus on the NDP will resonate with voters, or come across as extreme—but with the NDP surging in the polls, look for the criticisms to continue unabated.
Ontario New Democratic Party
Momentum—that’s the buzzword on the NDP campaign this week. Andrea Horwath kicked off the week with her largest campaign event to date—a big, raucous rally in Brampton attended by 1,000 supporters where she joined federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh to urge Ontarians to stop the Conservatives and elect an NDP government. Ms. Horwath spent the rest of her week showcasing NDP commitments to hire 4,500 nurses, convert post-secondary student loans to grants, create 27,000 new co-ops and internships, fast-track school repairs, and increase access to long-term care.
In a political campaign, momentum invites greater scrutiny, and the NDP faced that this week, with both the Conservatives and Liberals aiming broadsides at Ms. Horwath and her team. The Premier criticized the NDP fiscal plan over a $1.4-billion mistake related to accounting of contingencies, while the Conservatives took aim at NDP candidates over social media comments. The NDP campaign fought back on both fronts. They took aim at the Liberals’ disagreements with the Auditor General over the size of the province’s deficit forecasts, and the Conservatives’ failure to date to produce a campaign platform and costing for their promises.
The NDP has faced a few speed bumps on the campaign trail. To date, however, questions about the NDP’s fiscal record and the quality of its candidates have failed to meaningfully register with the voting public. The proof is in recent polls that show the NDP picking up support from the Liberals (from progressive voters who want to stop Doug Ford) and the Conservatives (from change-minded voters who want to oust Kathleen Wynne but think Mr. Ford is too risky).
From this point forward, the most important campaign mistakes for the NDP will be the ones they make or avoid in the campaign’s final days. As the leader with momentum, Ms. Horwath has a big target on her back, and will have to show focus and resolve in responding to the barrage of attacks that will be coming her way. She can expect tough questions in Sunday’s televised leaders’ debate, more broadsides from her political opponents and stakeholders that are offside with the NDP platform, and a full-court press against the NDP from corporate interests who through history have typically backed Conservatives and Liberals. How Ms. Horwath navigates these challenges over the next two weeks will be key to determining the fate of her party and its plan for “Change for the Better.”
Ontario Liberal Party
The Liberals spent the better part of the week taking shots at the Conservatives and NDP, making little headway in highlighting their own programs and policies.
The Liberals joined the Conservatives in drawing attention to NDP plans to close the Pickering Generating Station on three months’ notice, pointing to the party’s answers to the Ontario Clean Air Alliance campaign questionnaire. Releases also called out current candidates for past remarks around sex education and same-sex marriage. The Liberals also criticized the NDP leader for musing about never bringing in back-to-work legislation, calling it an out of touch pledge and attempting to tie it to the impact of allowing Canadian Blood Services workers to strike indefinitely. The Liberals also continued to point to financial mistakes in the NDP platform.
Liberal criticisms of the Conservatives centred on the story surrounding the 407 ETR data breach, with allegations continuing that the information had been used by a number of candidates in their nominations—challenging the PC Leader’s assertion that the breach was limited to a single riding. Later in the week, the Liberals jumped on the news of an audio recording from 2016 suggesting that Doug Ford had participated in buying party memberships to help a PC candidate win her nomination.
Events on the Liberal campaign trail remained focused on positions taken by their opponents, including highlighting support for moving to a $15/hour minimum wage on January 1, 2019, and appearing alongside Mothers Against Drunk Driving to oppose Mr. Ford’s announcement that his party would allow beer and wine to be sold at corner stores, arguing that it would put neighbourhoods at risk. The Liberals are called on Doug Ford to come clean on the party’s financial plan by releasing a platform.
Largely lost in the shuffle were announcements by the Liberals around creating a diabetes centre of excellence and strengthening private sector pension plans—as well as plans to invest in transit.
Sitting at what is the halfway mark of the campaign, the Liberals have failed so far to create a compelling narrative. Despite recent opinion pieces highlighting the many accomplishments of her activist government, the Premier hasn’t found a way to capitalize on them. Spending much of her time focused on her opponents hasn’t helped and isn’t driving voters to the Liberals—anything but. What’s been largely missing is the Premier talking passionately about what she’s done so far, and why she wants to continue in the job. The Premier makes an attempt at this in her latest campaign video, but the messaging about “doing better” and “better doesn’t stop” don’t quite hit the mark. Many are suggesting that the best plan for the Liberals over the next two weeks is to focus on retaining as many seats as possible, rather than making a pitch to retain government.
This Week in the Polls
(source: Ontario Poll Tracker, as of May 25, 2018)