Ontario Politics: 2017 in Review & A Look Ahead to 2018

With 2017 drawing to a close and with a greatly-anticipated provincial election on the way in June 2018, we thought it was a good time to take stock of where each of Ontario’s main parties sits currently — and what’s in store for next year.

Ontario Liberal Party

The Ontario Liberals are looking to develop a renewed agenda and team going into the 2018 election. The Liberals hope to recruit some star candidates from the business, social and city council ranks to demonstrate the team behind Premier Wynne is stronger than her low favourability ratings. Along with a new team will come new spending promises in the budget and platform.

The Liberals can be expected to tout their record on pensions, minimum wage, the environment and the strong Ontario economy, but they cannot expect to win without some major commitments to new initiatives over the next four years.

After major overhauls and investments in health care and education under the McGuinty Government, progress has been slower due to a focus on balancing the budget. Look to the Liberals to use any fiscal space to promote significant investments into schools, front line health care workers and home care to solidify their voter base in advance of the June election.

Ontario PC Party

In November, the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario surprised many with the release of its Platform The People’s Guarantee – a full six months ahead of the June 2018 provincial election.

Not surprisingly, the Platform was a largely progressive document that reinforced Leader Patrick Brown’s strategy to present a more moderate, modern, and centrist PC Party to Ontario voters. The People’s Guarantee included a number of traditional and ideologically Liberal policies, such as investments in transit and increased support for child care.  In fact, at the forefront of the Platform are five key commitments that Brown has promised to implement in his first term, or else he will not seek re-election:

  • 22.5% lower income taxes for the middle-class
  • A 75% refund of child care expenses
  • 12% more off hydro bills
  • $1.9 billion investment in mental health
  • The introduction of a “Trust, Integrity, and Accountability Act”

To date, the critical issue for the Tories under Patrick Brown has been the inability to define who he is as a politician and potential Premier, and what the new PC Party of Ontario stands for. While the release of the People’s Guarantee was an attempt to answer once and for all these outstanding questions, polling has since shown that – despite a largely positive reception – the Platform has not increased the Party’s favourability with voters to the extent that Brown may have hoped.

Moving forward, Brown will continue to campaign in an effort to sell the People’s Guarantee to Ontario voters. But with the current Liberal government suffering from low levels of support, it remains to be seen whether Brown needs to get elected or whether it will be a matter of the Liberals being defeated.

Ontario NDP Party

The NDP enters the election year with one big strength: its leader. Andrea Horwath is the most experienced of the party heads going into her third provincial campaign in the role. In terms of personal likeability, she polls ahead of the Premier and Patrick Brown. New Democrats eyeing the spring can feel good that the more equal spotlight of the campaign will present opportunities to leverage her personal popularity into improved numbers for the party.

Her new campaign team, led by the Manitoba government-hardened Michael Balagus, should also do a better job of threading together a campaign that unites rather than divides the NDP’s disparate coalition of union workers and progressive millennials.

The departure of Jagmeet Singh from the caucus denies Horwath a star candidate and strong brand ambassador to the immigrant and millennial demographics. However, expect the new federal NDP leader to have a presence in the campaign, knowing that a strong Ontario result is a necessity for Singh’s own success in 2019.

Over the last year, the Ontario Liberals have worked hard to outflank the NDP on the left, by acting on labour and minimum wage reform, pharmacare and tuition grants. To resist encroachment, look for the NDP to parry to where the Liberals have verged right, like the sale of Hydro One, while painting themselves as the authentic progressive vote.

On the other side of the political ledger, a softer, gentler PC party does two things for the NDP: On one hand, it threatens to capture some of the NDP’s traditional blue collar vote. Patrick Brown will have a chance to bring in voters, particularly in Northern Ontario ridings that have switched hands between the PCs and NDP. But on the other hand, it mutes the traditional late-game Liberal appeal to NDP-Liberal switchers to “stop the Conservatives.”

At this stage of the game, the overall campaign dynamics – a “throw the bums out” mood and an untested but non-threatening PC leader – are setting up a potentially advantageous field for the NDP.  However, this needs to be balanced by the concern that voters motivated to only remove Wynne’s Liberals could see the PCs as the only viable choice to force a change of government.

Horwath will have to rely on her strong popularity and a progressive platform that outshines the Liberals where they have faltered, in areas like hospitals, affordability and Hydro One to compel voters at the polls.

Look for more updates as we head into 2018 and the Ontario election race begins in earnest.

Happy New Year!

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