MIDDLE OF THE ROAD – At some point in every election campaign, voters who are otherwise indifferent to politics suddenly tune in – and the parties strive to be making their strongest impression at that very moment. It’s not clear whether those casual participants have yet engaged in the provincial campaign currently underway, but a third of it is already behind us. Today is Day 10 of a 30-day sprint (contrast that to the 2015 federal election, which ran 11 weeks!) and all of the parties continue at a breakneck pace trying to connect with constituents. The next third of the campaign will lead up to the televised Leaders’ debate on May 27. That’s relatively late – traditionally debates are around the halfway mark, and have often signalled the aforementioned point when voters start paying attention – leaving little time to adjust afterward. Having the debate on a Sunday evening is also a new touch, and it will be interesting to see if it attracts a larger or smaller audience than the standard mid-week show. It will run from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. and pre-empt programming across the province, broadcast on CBC, CTV, Global, CHCH, CPAC and TVO.
LUMP OF COAL-ITION – It took less than one week of campaigning for the C-word – coalition – to emerge. With the NDP making an early move into second place in public opinion polls — or at worst a statistical tie with the Liberals — the possibility of a Liberal-NDP coalition was raised by the media as a potential alternative to a Doug Ford-led PC government. For their part, neither Premier Kathleen Wynne nor NDP Leader Andrea Horwath would entertain such a scenario – although both hedged that it’s too soon to even consider the possibility. “I’m not going to pre-empt the result of the election,” Wynne asserted, but, while admitting that there is “a lot of overlap” between the parties’ platforms, she cited the NDP’s proposed business tax hikes as a reason to stay separate. Horwath was outright dismissive of the coalition idea, declaring, “I am unequivocally saying I have no interest in partnering up with that party.” But she too conceded that no decisions will be made until after the June 7 vote. Both also have some wiggle room in that they don’t need a formal coalition to form government. They could create an accord similar to the pact that toppled the 42-year Tory dynasty in 1985. Not surprisingly, the possibility of either the Liberals or NDP teaming up with Ford hasn’t even been mentioned.
ADVANCE GREEN – Polls continue to show the Green Party of Ontario on the fringes, with single digit support at best. But party leader Mike Schreiner continues to hope that voters disenchanted with the Big Three will turn his way. The Greens have candidates in every riding, and this week Schreiner launched his platform, under the slogan, “People Powered Change.” Touted as “nine fully costed commitments and a vision for Ontario that will make for a cleaner, healthier and more equitable way forward,” the centrepiece of the platform is a $4.18 billion Green Building and Business Program.
YOU CAN RUN BUT YOU CAN’T HYDRO – It’s not unusual for an election to be impacted by external events, but this week’s news of Hydro One directors voting themselves raises was truly jaw-dropping across all political lines. In what had to be one of the most tone-deaf decisions ever (unless, of course it was deliberate defiance) the board of the giant utility – already a flashpoint for excessive executive salaries – opted to hike compensation, including an extra $25,000 for board members and $70,000 for the Chair. Never mind the rationale that the raises were aimed at bringing payment in line with competitors in other jurisdictions and that Hydro One is performing well as a business (finding operational savings and turning profits), the decision was a gift for the Tories and NDP, who have been slamming the Liberals for privatizing Hydro One as a factor in soaring electricity rates. Wynne was instantly on the defensive, calling the raises “unacceptable” and pointing to a compensation review she ordered. Cue Ford, who was only too happy to reiterate his vow to fire the Hydro One board. “We have more than enough capable people of running Hydro,” he thundered. “I can assure you that, they’re lining up from here to Timbuktu.” And cue Horwath, who jumped on the opportunity to stoke her pledge to buy back Hydro One. “It’s obvious that Hydro One should not be in private hands,” she asserted. “It shows that they are completely out of touch with the people of Ontario, that they don’t care, they don’t have to be in touch with the people of Ontario, because they’re not accountable to the people of Ontario.”
FOR THE RECORD
“The NDP is going to face more scrutiny than it usually does, including its policies and its candidates. This is a real test. How realistic is its agenda? Have its candidates said non-mainstream things online and elsewhere? The next week may well determine if Andrea Horwath and her team are ready for prime time.”
University of Toronto professor Sean Speer, noting the new challenges the NDP will be facing as they rise in public opinion polls.
“With their candidate and their party now far more popular than their leader, it is a smart strategy for them to redirect the money they might have had previously supporting Wynne and take that into a hyper-localized approach.”
Erin Jacobson of ad agency Cohn & Wolfe, commenting to the CBC about a spate of 250 Liberal ads supporting local candidates that make little to no mention of the party leader.
“I was all but assassinated in public. Who did it, how and why? … This is a story of betrayal, blackmail and backroom politicking involving some of Canada’s biggest political names. This was my dream, this was my nightmare … I experienced a sensational political assassination the likes of which haven’t been seen since Julius Caesar.”
Former PC Leader Patrick Brown, promoting the book he has written, Take Down: The Political Assassination of Patrick Brown, to be released in November.
ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL
The Liberals launched a new series of TV ads, these ones focused on themselves rather than Ford (who had been the subject of their previous ads). The new video features a youngish woman walking in a rural field, acknowledging Wynne’s unpopularity – “Okay, I get it,” she starts, “Everything hasn’t been perfect in Kathleen Wynne’s Ontario” – then listing Wynne’s accomplishments.
Wynne and the Liberals were incensed by an incident where Ford supporters at a PC rally chanted “lock her up” – a popular refrain at Donald Trump events as he castigated rival Hilary Clinton during the last U.S. presidential campaign. Ford had paused briefly and chuckled at the reference, then later distanced himself from it, reiterating his vow to take the “high road.”
Having spent most of the campaign so far attacking Ford, the LIBs turned their sights on Horwath, claiming to have found a budgeting “miscalculation” that leaves a $5-billion hole in the NDP platform’s costing plan.
“[Ford’s campaign] is about slogans and bumper stickers and angry division more than it is about responsible decision-making, principled policies … If I’m found wanting because I don’t have a clear enough bumper sticker, so be it.”
Wynne, responding to criticism she has been over-explaining her policies.
The PCs have yet to replace the discarded People’s Guarantee election platform, but Ford is continuing to dole out policy promises. This week his pledges included curtailing business grants (often derided as “corporate welfare”), $98 million to help low-income seniors access dental care, an 8.7% reduction in small business taxes, and cutting gasoline prices by 10 cents a litre.
Ford had to deal with allegations that stolen data from about 60,000 Highway 407 ETR customers had been used in PC nomination races. Brampton East candidate Simmer Sandhu unexpectedly quit the race amid allegations he is connected to the internal theft, which he denies, while the Tories investigate reports of up to 20 ridings having been affected. The party quickly appointed local businessman Sudeep Verma (who had run unsuccessfully for the PC nomination in a neighbouring riding) as their new Brampton East candidate, just ahead of the Thursday deadline for nominations.
“People want change in this province, they don’t want the NDP making a backroom deal to prop up the Liberals, they want comprehensive change.”
Ford, scoffing at the notion of the other parties joining forces if the Tories are held to a minority.
Horwath boasted that 56% of NDP candidates are women, the first time a major political party has a slate of more women than men.
A sign of the times, Horwath made a stop at Twitter headquarters this week for a Q&A with users of the social media platform. She is the first party leader to do so in this campaign.
“I think people deserve to know what makes their leaders tick. We’ve had a Premier that said she was one thing and then turned out to be something else. We have somebody in Mr. Ford who’s trying to hide from who he is and not let people know exactly what it is he has in store… It’s incumbent upon us to say to people, ‘it doesn’t have to be that way.’ ”
Horwath, continuing to portray herself as different from the other leaders in both style and substance.