LAST GASP – After all the campaign events, all the mudslinging, all the social media hyperbole, all the partisan spin, a week from now Ontarians will have … results. More than likely – barring an astonishing shift in voter sentiment in the final days – the outcome will be a change in government. Public opinion research continues to point to the Liberals being ousted after nearly 15 years in power – although if recent history has taught us anything it’s that polling is hardly infallible (President Trump, anyone?) If the LIBs do go down, there is still much suspense over whether either the PCs or NDP can win a majority government, and how vote splits will play out in various ridings. Voter turnout could also be a factor, with many pundits predicting record low participation as many voters don’t like any of their options – disdain that has only been exacerbated by the bitter jeering that has characterized this campaign.
IT’S DEBATABLE – In keeping with the cacophonous nature of the campaign, Sunday’s televised leaders’ debate set off an avalanche of commentary. Objectivity, however, was in short supply, as for the most part the debate seemed to reinforce existing opinions – making it hard to tell whether it actually influenced any votes. Aside from the partisan cheerleading, most analysis concluded that Premier Kathleen Wynne had comported herself well, perhaps even “winning” the debate if there is such a thing, but that it was probably too late to make much difference. PC Leader Doug Ford and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath both did what they needed to do – i.e., reinforce messages to their core supporters, without making any serious blunders. There was no singular dramatic moment – the oft-referenced but rarely delivered “knockout punch” – and the campaign pretty much continued as before as soon as the debate was finished.
PAST TENSE – While the focus was on the leaders during the debate and they are still obviously the stars of the campaign, this election more than any other in memory has put the spotlight on individual candidates – and not in a good way. Allegations of shady behaviour in nominations continue to dog Ford, as do some past activities (notably the admittedly “reckless” musings of former radio host Andrew Lawton, who was appointed by Ford as the PC candidate in London West). But with the NDP surging, the Tories turned the tables, zeroing in on the “radical” (Ford’s word) views of a handful of New Democrat candidates. This has included one with a Nazi meme and anti-Canadian forces rantings on her Facebook page, another who is against mining, one opposed to Remembrance Day poppies, a 9/11 conspiracy “truther,” and a candidate who once posted virulent anti-“gun nut” messages. Horwath promised to investigate, and she distanced herself from the comments – but not the right to express them. “Those are certainly not values I share, but freedom of speech is a principle that we all, I think, value,” she said.
OLDTIMERS GAME – If Liberal fortunes don’t improve, it looks like some big names could be election casualties. Several veteran Grit MPPs are reportedly in danger of losing their seats, including Wynne herself in Don Valley West. Others said to be on the bubble include long-time MPP Bob Chiarelli in Ottawa-West Nepean, Yasir Naqvi (a presumptive leadership candidate whenever Wynne steps down) in Ottawa Centre, Steven Del Duca (ditto) in Vaughan-Woodbridge and, most surprising of all, 41-year veteran Jim Bradley in St. Catharines. Bradley has won 11 elections since 1977 and is on the verge of setting a record as Ontario’s longest-serving MPP ever. He’s less than a year short of Harry Nixon’s longevity mark but can’t surpass it unless he wins next week.
UPTOWN BROWN – Not long after this election ends another will appear on the horizon, as Ontarians will once again be going to the polls on October 22 to choose their municipal representatives. At least a few unsuccessful provincial candidates will no doubt take another shot in the fall, and rumour has it that one very familiar name will be on the ballot: none other than former PC Leader Patrick Brown. Hard to believe it’s only been a little over four months since Brown resigned in disgrace (forever leaving us to wonder how the current campaign would have unfolded if he was still at the PC helm), but he has been actively trying to rehabilitate his image since then – suing CTV News for the sexual misconduct story that brought him down and writing a tell-all book to be released in November. According to some reports, he could be launching that book as Chair of Peel Region – a position he is contemplating seeking in the fall. (Up until now, the Chair has been chosen by Regional Councillors; as of 2018 voters will make that decision directly.) Earlier speculation had Brown interested in running for Mayor of Barrie – he was a Barrie Councillor before being elected as a federal MP – but word is polling showed he’d have trouble defeating incumbent Mayor Jeff Lehman. The Peel Region idea has some credence, in that a big chunk of Brown’s support base was in the South Asian community, which is largely concentrated in Brampton and Mississauga.
ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL
Building on a line Wynne used in the televised debate (see below), the Liberals launched an advertising blitz around the “sorry not sorry” theme.
Wynne released a full election platform, with promises beyond the Budget measures that had been the foundation of her campaign so far. Covering no fewer than 45 categories, the “anchor” of the platform is a commitment to legislation that when actual spending is lower than projections, 100% of the difference will go to pay down debt. Other new pledges include eliminating geographic discrimination in auto insurance premiums, reducing transit fares for trips between municipalities and creating an independent gasoline watchdog.
“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 am not sorry about all of the things that we’re doing in Ontario to make life better.”
Wynne, defending her record – while acknowledging her personal unpopularity.
Ford released a sort-of platform, called the “Plan for the People” – basically it’s a list of promises he’s made during the campaign and costs associated with them, posted on the PC website. It does not include a full costing – an omission vociferously seized on by his opponents, nor does it mention the $6-billion in administrative efficiencies he has vowed to find. Campaign spokesperson Melissa Lantsman insisted that every promise is costed, and argued that financial projections are folly anyway, because “We do not yet know the state of Ontario’s finances and anyone who tells you they do is lying to you.”
Confronted by a drop in the polls, Ford went with the oldest line in the book: “You know something, I never pay attention to polls. I’ve said that from Day 1 – the only poll that counts is on Election Day.”
Building on last week’s pledge to allow beer and wine to be sold in corner stores, Ford announced a “buck-a-beer” policy, vowing to lower the minimum price. “For too long beer consumers have been forced to pay inflated prices for beer in order to increase the profits of big corporations,” he said in a statement. “We’re going to allow price competition for beer and this will save consumers money.”
“I’m always anti-politician. I’ve never changed. I’m the same person. It’s all about respecting the taxpayers, always taking care of the little guy. That’s who I am. Nobody’s going to change me.”
Ford, insisting that criticism levelled at him won’t affect his approach.
Far from fearing the increased scrutiny that comes with frontrunner status, Horwath appears to be embracing it – at least she did in a lengthy Globe and Mail feature. In one segment she admitted politics is all-consuming, but that’s okay with her. “It really is your whole life. I still love it, which means I have a serious personality disorder,” she laughed, showing a sense of humour that has been largely missing in recent years.
On a more serious note in the same article, Horwath’s Chief of Staff Michael Balagus noted a very different tone on this campaign. “In the history of the Ontario NDP, winning has rarely been on the top of the agenda. The one time they won government [under Bob Rae in 1990], many people were traumatized by that in the party,” Balagus observed. “That’s the difference this time. [Horwath] owns this campaign.”
Horwath’s sense of humour was on display again when her campaign hit the inevitable glitch, in this case an overheated bus between Sarnia and London. “I’m going to take a look under the hood,” she reportedly said tongue-in-cheek, then tweeted, “Time for #FanBeltChange4Better.”
“I don’t think that people want to watch mud be slung by the parties. The Conservative party and the Liberal party should think about the fact that when you throw mud, you lose ground.”
Horwath, claiming the high road.
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