EARLY ADOPTERS – Let the voting begin. Advance polls open tomorrow for a five-day window, giving Ontarians a chance to cast their ballots before Election Day on June 7. In recent years, advance polls have become a key focus for political parties, as they try to get as many votes as possible in the can – votes they then don’t have to worry about pulling on E-Day. Look for a major on-the-ground offensive between now and May 30, as each party’s identified supporters get the call urging them to take advantage of the early-bird special.
SLATE SHOW – To facilitate the advance polls, ballots have been printed and delivered by Elections Ontario, which logged a total of 825 registered candidates across the province. That’s a big jump from the 615 candidates in 2014, mostly reflecting the increase in ridings from 107 to 124. But redistribution doesn’t explain why there are more parties – 28 to be exact, up from 21 four years ago. This includes the Canadians’ Choice Party, Consensus Ontario, Go Vegan, Ontario Moderate Party, Ontario Provincial Confederation of Regions Party, Party of Objective Truth, Peoples Political Party, New People’s Choice Party of Ontario, Stop Climate Change and Stop the Sex-Ed Agenda. Also on the list is the regional Northern Ontario Party (which, oddly, couldn’t field a candidate in Kenora-Rainy River) and of course the Pauper Party of Ontario led by perennial candidate John Turmel, now running in his 94th election (this time in Brantford-Brant, where he has run – and lost – before).
FIREWORKS – Most mid-campaign polls indicate that this is a two-horse race, with the NDP pulling into a virtual tie with the Tories for first place and the Liberals sliding further back into third. (The latest from Pollara Strategic Insights, conducting public opinion research in partnership with us at Enterprise and Maclean’s, has the NDP in front with 38% support, the Tories right behind at 37% and the Liberals dropping to a dismal 18%.) One variable, however, is that the undecided vote appears to still be quite profound. Whether this is a reflection of uncertainty about the choices or apathy in general is not clear, but if there are going to be major shifts in voter sentiments they should soon start becoming evident now that Victoria Day is behind us. Conventional wisdom is that a long weekend during a campaign is when an election suddenly shows up in many voters’ consciousness, as an inevitable topic of conversation among gatherings of family and friends.
FOR THE SAKE OF ARGUMENT – One major event that could impact voters’ thinking is coming up on Sunday evening. That’s when the three main party leaders will convene for a televised debate (sans Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner – who will have his nose figuratively pressed against the glass, he and his supporters miffed that the Greens are not invited.) Huge pressure will be on all three: Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne, desperately needing a strong showing to woo back voters who have pretty much written the Liberals off; PC Leader Doug Ford, whose direct, forthright style is tailor-made for this kind of event, but who risks alienating swing voters if he’s seen as too brusque or sloganeering; and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, keen to build on the momentum she’s gained in this campaign, mindful that voters who hadn’t considered the NDP before are now paying closer attention.
FOR THE RECORD
“It’s like Ford Nation has its own laws of economics. I call them ‘Doug-onomics.’ They’re one part magic, one part wishful thinking, and a huge dose of pull-the-wool-over-their-eyes. And it all boils down to this: You can have your cake and eat it too. And if you believe that, I’ve got a gas plant you might want to buy.”
OPSEU President Warren “Smokey” Thomas, using a Sun Media guest column to slag the PC Leader. The 155,000-member public service union has produced its own election platform, called Vote Better, which vehemently opposes privatization and largely skews toward the NDP.
ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL
Another new Liberal video ad launched this week, this one featuring a sort-of mea culpa from Wynne, whose personal unpopularity has been pegged as dragging down overall Liberal fortunes. The video opens with an abrupt close-up of Wynne saying “I can do better,” then segues into clips of Wynne meeting with kids, seniors, etc. under a voice-over of her affirming, “How can I make life better for you, that’s what I think about when I get up to run at five in the morning.” (The running reference recycles a theme from the 2014 election.) The video concludes with Wynne declaring, “Better never stops. Neither will I.”
Hoping to curtail some of the NDP’s momentum – which largely siphons progressive voters away from the Liberals – the LIBs seized on comments from Horwath opposing government legislation to end public sector strikes. “While no one wants or likes to order parties back to work, the public interest sometimes demands the government’s leadership when all else fails,” chided a statement from Liberal HQ. The Liberals also made hay of out of an NDP pledge to support apprenticeship training but with no funding for it. “More Signs of Incompetence Show NDP Are Not Ready to Govern,” screamed the Liberal headline.
The LIBs still see Ford as their primary opponent, and made a big deal of releasing an audio recording of the PC Leader purportedly engaged in shady dealings on behalf of Kinga Surma, the candidate in the Etobicoke riding where Ford lives. Stirring ongoing controversy about PC nominations, the Liberals say the evidence shows Ford paid for new members (against party rules) and intimidated Surma’s rival. Ford dismissed the allegations as desperate Liberals “trying to change the channel.”
“I’m not under any illusion that this is not a challenging election for us. I absolutely get that … It’s a really, really important election for this province because it is an election about what our province is going to look like going forward.”
Wynne, acknowledging polls showing her Liberals destined for third-party status but not giving up hope that voters will come back to them.
With polls showing the NDP gaining ground on the Tories, Ford took dead aim at them, repeatedly using the words “radical” and “extreme” to describe NDP candidates and policies. In a tarring-with-one-brush broadside he offered, “What is worse than the Liberals – and they’re bad – who’d be 10 times worse, would be the NDP.”
Ford dusted off a legendary campaign promise – first raised by the Liberals in the 1980s and surfacing periodically since then – by vowing to allow beer, wine, cider and coolers to be sold in corner stores and big-box stores. “It is time to acknowledge that Ontario is mature enough for this change and ready to join other jurisdictions in making life a little more convenient,” Ford explained, reinforcing the point with one of his major campaign themes, “I believe in doing what’s convenient for the people, and not what’s convenient for the government.”
On top of the nomination kerfuffle around Etobicoke Centre, Ford was on the defensive about a police investigation into accusations of stolen personal data from Highway 407 ETR customers being used for political purposes, which led to the resignation of one PC candidate and has rumoured links to a dozen others. However, the PC Leader wasn’t about to wear the controversy, throwing it at the feet of his predecessor. “Seventy-one days ago I was elected to come in and clean up the mess that I’ve cleaned up. This goes back to Patrick Brown. Patrick Brown was the leader of this whole group of people,” Ford said. (Brown, for his part, did not take kindly to this depiction. In a Toronto Star op-ed column he wrote, “We were well on our way to recreating the Big Blue Machine of the great Bill Davis that would have governed as a fiscally conservative, moderate, inclusive, pragmatic and progressive party. That’s no mess.”)
“God forbid they ever got in … Ontario workers and their families will be stuck paying for the radical NDP agenda and we all end up paying for the NDP and their radical plans.”
Ford, with one of many unvarnished shots at the surging NDP.
Well aware of polls showing an NDP victory – maybe even a majority government – to be a distinct possibility, Horwath admitted she has started thinking about managing the transition. However, she cautioned, “I’m not far along at all because you never really count your chickens before they hatch.”
Horwath acknowledged the accounting mistake in her platform that had the Liberals pointing accusatory fingers. Having already committed to budget deficits, Horwath revised her costing estimates to be $1.4 billion higher, shrugging off the Liberal indignation. “We’ve fixed the problem that was identified,” she declared. “I’m confident that everything in our platform is achievable. Should people give us the honour of governing in Ontario, we will make life better for everyone.”
Horwath got a boost from her former caucus mate and now federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who joined her for a campaign event at Brampton’s Bombay Palace. “This is the kind of rally I dream about having in Brampton,” Singh gushed. “This is what we’ve been building for the past seven years.”
“There’s a whole bunch of voters out there that don’t even know who Bob Rae is. And I’m not Bob Rae. And this is not 1990; this is 2018.”
Horwath, rejecting any connection to Ontario’s only previous NDP government.
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