With the campaign entering the home stretch, we take a look at the week that was, and a look ahead at what the parties need to do in the final days leading up to June 7th.
Ontario PC Party
The focus for much of the week for Doug Ford and the Conservatives was on the NDP—continuing to communicate around the “meet the real NDP” theme in calling out candidates for controversial remarks and pointing to increases in hydro rates that would occur under the NDP. On Monday, Doug Ford held a roundtable in Newmarket, alongside a number of his star candidates—including Caroline Mulroney and Christine Elliott—in an event aimed at conveying the party’s readiness to govern, as distinct from the roster of NDP candidates.
The biggest development this week came with the Conservative platform release on Wednesday. It is centred on the key themes already established by the Conservatives during the campaign: rebuilding Ontario with investments in infrastructure; restoring responsibility, accountability and trust by conducting a value for money audit for every government program; respecting taxpayers by cutting hydro rates and reducing taxes, creating jobs through lowered taxes, and making investments in health care, education and the North. Criticism of the platform by the opposition and the media was swift, calling out the Conservatives for having tabled it without a fully costed financial plan indicating overall spending and deficit projections. That left room for the Liberals to post their own numbers against the Conservative platform, and for economists to weigh in on the probability of higher deficits than under the NDP and Liberal plans. The Conservatives responded quickly, saying that the plan is to return to a balanced budget within a responsible timeframe and that more precise accounting isn’t possible because the Liberal government’s books “are such a mess”. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation called out the platforms of all three parties for failing to say how they will pay for their promises but noted that “at least the PCs are talking about finding unspecified efficiencies”, rather than piling on debt.
In the week ahead, the Conservatives will need to stay laser-focused on the NDP in an attempt to deter any undecided or swing voters from choosing their opponent. Expect a full court press against the NDP, while at the same time a focus on keeping the week error-free from the Leader’s perspective. With the polls this close, there’s no room for mistakes in the push to election day.
Ontario New Democratic Party
With less than a week to go until voting day, consolidating the anti-Doug-Ford vote is the primary focus for the Ontario NDP campaign. With polls showing the NDP and PCs running neck-and-neck in terms of popular support, Andrea Horwath is now making a direct appeal to traditional Liberal voters to support the NDP to prevent a PC majority. Today, she visited Premier Wynne’s riding of Don Valley West to appeal to progressive voters afraid of Ford's Progressive Conservatives agenda of “tax cuts for the wealthy” funded by “cuts to public services” to rally around New Democrats and their plan for a "positive, hopeful future." After spending the week touring the province touting the benefits of NDP policies on rent control, dental care, and investment in infrastructure, Ms. Horwath pivoted today, turning up the temperature on her opponents to focus on “Liberal and PC corruption.” She attempted to turn the page on questions about the qualifications of NDP candidates by turning the table on her opponents over questions of ethics and trust. Ms. Horwath pledged to clean up politics amidst a Globe and Mail investigation into allegations of influence peddling involving the Liberals, and a police investigation into the alleged theft of personal data of drivers using Highway 407. As the election day draws near, watch for Ms. Horwath to continue to focus on trust and ethics as she makes her final push towards what she hopes will be the first Ontario NDP Government in more than two decades.
If “momentum” was the buzzword for the first weeks of the NDP campaign, “testing” was this week’s focus. With polls suggesting the NDP could form government, Ms. Horwath and her team this week faced the increased scrutiny that comes with legitimate contender status. Ms. Horwath faced tough questions about some of her candidates and their views on the police, the military, and the appropriateness of civil disobedience. The PCs launched a wave of attack ads suggesting the NDP will make life more expensive for everyday families—a tough counter-message to the NDP’s offer to voters of “Change for the Better.” The NDP has also faced unexpected attacks from the Liberals over Ms. Horwath’s support of unions and her reluctance to support back-to-work legislation to end strikes. The sum total of these attacks seems to be a stall in NDP support, with most polls showing Ms. Horwath still leading Mr. Ford by two points in terms of popular support, but trailing Mr. Ford in terms of seat count due to the geographical efficiency of the PC vote.
For Ms. Horwath, much hinges on these final days of the campaign. Can she reclaim the campaign narrative with her focus on ethics? Can she mobilize teams on the ground in the ridings the party needs to pick up to win but hasn’t traditionally had a strong presence? Can she motivate young people who polling shows support the NDP to actually get out and vote for her party? At this point, these are open questions that only time will answer.
Ontario Liberal Party
The Premier spent the week attempting to get the word out through the media about her record in government and addressing head on the lack of support for her party in the election. Events included a live-streaming of an editorial board meeting with the Toronto Star, during which she talked openly about not being sorry for having governed the way she did and explained the rationale for unpopular decisions such as having privatized Hydro One. She also did a live Q&A on Twitter, inviting people to “AskKathleen”, which generated some thoughtful, probing questions and announced plans to make a comeback on election day during an appearance on CBC’s Metro Morning. The Premier continued to make policy announcements this week, including pledging to introduce back to work legislation for striking York University faculty and expanding funding for the Jobs and Prosperity Fund. Later in the week, the Premier was afforded one last chance to speak as Premier on a substantive policy issue, in responding to the imposition of tariffs on Canadian-made steel. With nothing to lose, the Premier used tough language in calling President Trump a “bully” and vowed to push for “the toughest set of retaliatory measures possible”.
Facing polls that show the Liberal party continuing to trail badly, the question for the Premier is how to retain or win the most seats possible to give the Liberals a chance to live another day. Current projections suggest that the Liberals will win seats in the single digits, raising the prospect of not achieving the eight seats needed to retain official party status. The strongest areas for the Liberals are in Toronto and eastern Ontario, but the reality is that even there, it will be a huge uphill battle for the party to be successful. Look for the Premier to remain resolute over the next week leading to the vote, and to go out fighting for her record and the activist approach to governing she’s taken since assuming the role of Premier.