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Ontario Election 2018 – 15 Years of Liberal Government in the Balance

The formal start of an election, with the premier making a visit to the Lieutenant General to call for an election, is generally treated as big deal in Ontario politics. But this time, the start of the 42nd Ontario general election feels like an afterthought.

2018 has been a year like no other in Ontario politics.  Few could have predicted the sudden resignation of PC Leader Patrick Brown, the unexpected choice of Doug Ford to replace him, and the last-minute departure of eight key Liberal MPPs and Cabinet Ministers in the run-up to the election.

While the PCs and the NDP are showing strong political support at the start of the campaign, there is a lot that can still happen to change voters’ opinions before June 7.  The PC Party has yet to release their full platform, Doug Ford remains untested as a provincial party leader, and many votes may be up-for-grabs as a good portion of the Ontario electorate remains undecided.

StrategyCorp will be providing weekly campaign updates, providing insights on the strategies of each party and where the campaign is headed over the course of the next month. Stay tuned as Ontarians decide if its time for a change, or whether to stay the course for another four years.

Ontario Liberal Party

Heading into the 2018 election, the Ontario Liberals are trailing in the polls behind the PCs and the NDP as many voters are experiencing fatigue after 15 years of Liberal power in Ontario. However, despite negative public opinion of Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne, voters are generally still supportive of the Liberals’ policies and their record of investment in transit, education and health care.  Indeed, the Liberals’ pre-election budget (which is essentially the Liberal campaign platform) featured spending in health care and child care to try and woo voters back into the fold.  Many Liberal MPPs also enjoy strong support in their local ridings which may be enough to secure a number of seats across the province.

The Liberals will continue to position the campaign as a stark choice for voters, between the their government and Ford’s PCs, and drive the message of “care vs cuts” to convince Ontarians to stay the course with a Liberal government once again. In order to rebuild public support, the party must prove to voters how their campaign promises will benefit Ontarians across the province, strengthen the economy and create good jobs and why a vote for the PCs or NDP will put the things that matter to them at risk.

Ontario NDP

New Democrats must be hoping that the next four weeks play out like this week’s Toronto-focused debate. Analysts credited Andrea Horwath as being measured and “rising above” her opponents during the CityNews format.

NDP strategists need Horwath to continue to look and sound distinct to avoid the party’s perennial challenge of being rendered invisible by loud binary debate between Kathleen Wynne and Doug Ford.

With the party polling at recent highs of 30% support, this NDP campaign begins with rare advantages. A poll Monday confirmed Horwath as the party’s biggest asset, associated with values like honesty and integrity, while the Premier and Ford are seen as “typical politicians.”

Still, Horwath faces the challenge of not being as well known to voters. The election campaign will be an equalizer from that perspective, but the impromptu PC leadership contest this winter stole the opportunity the party was counting on to reintroduce Horwath and some policy ideas to voters in the pre-election. The NDP campaign will have to work hard these next weeks to connect with the approximately 80% of Ontarians ready for change to excite and persuade them that an NDP-led government would be an outcome worth voting for.

Our quick reference guide to the NDP Platform is a good place to get a sense of what issues will be prominent in the NDP campaign over the next month.

Ontario PC Party

“Keep Calm and Carry On.”  For the Ontario PC Party, those words will be key throughout the 2018 election campaign.  As any front-runner knows, the Liberals and New Democrats will be trying their best to knock newly-minted Ontario PC leader Doug Ford from his simple and targeted messaging, summed up by his campaign slogan – “For The People” – a populist theme of speaking up for all Ontarians.

So far, that strategy has seemed to work.  In the lead-up to the election, Liberals have been doing their best to try and knock Mr. Ford and his team off message by releasing a number of clips of him and his candidates in embarrassing situations.  Yet Mr. Ford has remained calm, taken action to distance himself from these issues, and kept his focus on Kathleen Wynne’s record.

While the Wynne Liberals try and convince voters with their “chicken in every pot” election budget, and Andrea Horwath and the NDP try and sell themselves as the real voice of hope and change for Ontarians, Doug Ford and the Ontario PCs have remained riding high in first place in the polls. To maintain this lead, they are expected to present a simple election platform with a few easily-communicated key policies, and not an 80-plus page platform that Patrick Brown had developed as leader.

Mr. Ford is surrounded by a strong and experienced campaign team who have cut their teeth at the federal level in Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, as well as most recently on Mr. Ford’s leadership campaign.

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