IT’S ON – Ontario’s general election is now officially underway – not that anyone will notice much difference, given the electioneering that has gripped the province for months. Some 10.1 million Ontarians are eligible to vote, and Elections Ontario is gearing up for more than 7,200 voting locations in 124 ridings. Advance polls will be open May 26-30, with E-Day set for June 7.
STARTING LINE – Polling will of course be a big part of the narrative in the next four weeks. We at Enterprise are partnering with Pollara Strategic Insights on research to track voters’ intentions and motivation. In a benchmark Maclean’s survey a few days ago, Pollara found the Tories solidly in first place with 40% support. That’s not surprising; virtually every other poll has come to the same conclusion. But Pollara put the NDP in second place with 30%, well ahead of the Liberals at 23%. We will follow this throughout the election, to see if – and why – the numbers shift.
CLICK DEBATE – Just prior to the formal launch of the campaign, the three main party leaders took part in a rare pre-writ televised debate at CityTV – agreeing to participate, no doubt, because none wanted to launch their campaigns amid accusations of cowardice. Like all such debates it was overly stage-managed, with each leader self-consciously watching their body language and relying on carefully crafted talking points. But it did offer glimpses of the broader themes each party wants to push over the next month. Premier Kathleen Wynne stuck closely to facts and figures, in an effort to demonstrate her administration’s successes. PC Leader Doug Ford repeatedly spoke of defending “the little guy,” brushing off the other leaders’ persistent challenges around how he would achieve his policy promises. And NDP Leader Andrea Horwath took every opportunity to roll her eyes at the other two bickering, scoffing “this is the problem with Ontario right now, folks.”
OFF MIKE – As usual, Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner was not invited to join the televised debate, on the rationale that his party doesn’t have a seat in the Legislature. But his supporters were there, staging a protest in front of the studio wearing green tape over their mouths. Schreiner himself tried to make his presence felt by tweeting responses to each of the questions. His campaign is expected to continue to apply pressure to have him included in the other leaders’ debates during the campaign.
ALLEN WRENCH –Other protesters also showed up outside the debate, in their case to voice dismay at Tanya Granic Allen being yanked as the PC candidate for Mississauga Centre. Ford revoked the nomination of his erstwhile leadership rival – whose second-choice support is at least partly credited with giving him the leadership victory – after the Liberals released a 2014 video of her expressing rather intemperate views. In the video, Granic Allen rails against Croatia trying to “push radical sexual education on the young or gay marriage – you know I almost vomit in disbelief. I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?‘ How can this be happening? Just 20 years ago we were liberated from this communism and now we are embracing these lack of values, these lack of ideals.” Within hours of the video surfacing, Ford issued a statement pulling her candidacy on the grounds that “her characterization of certain issues and people has been irresponsible.” He named Natalia Kusendova, runner-up in the nomination, as the Tory candidate in Mississauga Centre. Granic Allen was obviously displeased, calling it “another betrayal of social conservatives – just like Patrick Brown.” Her reference to the previous PC leader could be ominous: The Campaign Life Coalition, known to have backed Granic Allen’s leadership bid, actively opposed Brown after he disavowed SoCon principles.
OUT OF THE HOUSE –Technically the provincial government remains intact during the writ period, with the cabinet still in charge and MPPs representing their constituents. In reality the bureaucracy will keep watch, basically in a holding pattern as civil servants prepare briefing books for the new regime. The Legislative Assembly will remain dark – barring some kind of emergency – with the parliament now dissolved. Before they left on Tuesday, the Liberal majority passed two final bills, the Government Contract Wages Act and 2018-19 Budget legislation.
BATTLE OF YORK – The very last bill of the session, which would have legislated an end to the strike by 3,000 contract staff at York University, died on the Order Paper. It could have passed quickly with all-party approval, but the NDP nixed that. Naturally, this triggered some political nastiness. Liberals insisted the last-minute timing of the bill stemmed from a report last Friday from provincially appointed investigator William Kaplan concluding that a negotiated settlement was impossible. New Democrats countered that the LIBs were setting a trap, knowing the NDP would block the bill – organized labour, a key NDP constituency, generally hates back-to-work legislation – with no time to resolve the dispute.
THE END – It was hugs, and some misty eyes, all around as the Assembly wrapped up, signalling the end of the road for 15 retiring MPPs. Among those on hand for the final farewell was, somewhat surprisingly, exiled PC MPP Michael Harris. Harris, who spent his last few weeks as an independent MPP, turned up on Tuesday despite having cornea replacement surgery the day before. He had claimed his eye disease was the reason he wasn’t seeking re-election, then got turfed from the PC caucus over inappropriate texts to an intern – a decision that is shrouded in conspiracy theories for some in his Kitchener-Conestoga riding. Going out on the high road, Harris posted a message to supporters: “I believe the future is filled with promise for all of us. In the months and years ahead, I hope to continue to be a voice for positive change and progress.”
ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL
In an apparent show-no-fear gesture, Wynne’s very first campaign stop was in the west Toronto suburb of Etobicoke – Ford’s home turf.
Wynne acknowledged that the Liberal and NDP platforms are similar, but insisted there is one major contrast: “The difference is that we actually have laid out how we would do the things that they would do.”
“I guess we’ve come to expect that everything about Ford is fake. The news is fake, the stories are fake, his facts are fake and now we know his supporters are fake.”
Liberal campaign co-chair Deb Matthews, taking a shot at the PC campaign for hiring actors to wear branded t-shirts and wave supportive placards outside of the CityTV studio during the leaders’ debate on Monday.
Ford addressed a sensitive issue right off the bat, vowing to scrap and revise Ontario’s updated sex-ed curriculum, and while he’s at it, ditch the Discovery Math program too. He criticized both approaches as being ideologically driven.
“Respect” has emerged as a favourite Ford word. Adding to his oft-stated pledge to respect taxpayers, in announcing his transit platform Ford summed it up as, “We’re going to respect drivers, respect neighbourhoods.”
“I condemn this guy’s views and everything he stands for. If he knew anything about Ford Nation, he would know we welcome people from all backgrounds, religion, & income levels. Nice try, Liberals. #DesperateWynne.”
Tweet from Ford after the Liberals claimed that notorious Montreal-based neo-Nazi recruiter “Zeiger” had endorsed the PC Leader.
The first day on the campaign trail for the NDP showcased the party’s healthcare plan that includes a boost of both operational and capital funding for hospitals, as well as a new ad highlighting the party’s “Change for the better” slogan.
In 2014, Horwath took a lot of heat and alienated a good chunk of her core with policies that pursued right-leaning voters. Her approach this time is much more progressive, which has already earned her the endorsement of a key constituency for the NDP — the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario.
“I think people are looking for change this election. And that means that by definition that Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals are not going to be forming government come June 7. But people have an important choice to make. What we’re here to say is you don’t have to go from bad to worse.”
Horwath, buoyed by polls that have her party solidly in second place, and one reporting first place, all but dismissing the Liberals as a threat and focusing the brunt of her attacks on Ford and the PCs.
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