State of Play – Ontario Election Update

 

We’re over halfway to election day, and StrategyCorp has you covered with the latest developments on where the vote is heading. In this week’s update:

  • Current electoral math points to a Ford majority and a new PC electoral quilt
  • Del Duca could end the “progressive primary” once and for all and he’s getting noticed
  • Union blues for the NDP
  • PCs hold their lead after final leaders debate
  • Beyond the Headlines – a look at what we’re seeing beyond traditional election coverage
  • ICYMI – Intended Consequences continues digging into the election

Current electoral math points to a Ford majority

As we head into the last two weeks of the campaign, it is difficult to see how Doug Ford and the PCs could lose enough seats to threaten their majority government.  While the Liberals have established a polling lead ahead of the NDP, it is highly unlikely that they would be able to make the conversion from third place to first.  Instead, the Liberals are more likely to focus on winning back seats they lost to the NDP in 2018.

The PCs will be trying to keep the 16 current seats they hold without an incumbent candidate, while also trying to pick up new seats in key areas – like Timmins, Essex, Windsor, additional seats in Kitchener-Waterloo, Oshawa, and seats in the Niagara region. At the same time, some PC ridings face tight two or three-way races that could flip based on the last two weeks of the campaign. PC re-elections in Sault Ste. Marie, some GTA ridings, the seats in Durham region, and Ottawa West-Nepean are not guaranteed.

Even so, this electoral math deeply underlines the challenge the two main opposition parties have.  Ford and the Tories could lose six to eight seats in these marginal ridings yet could still pick up a similar number of seats they currently do not hold, which means another strong Ontario PC majority along the lines of 2018.

A new PC electoral quilt

Uniquely, Ford’s electoral coalition looks very different than the traditional Ontario PC coalition in past elections, including in 2018.  He may even be able to pick up some ridings with large union representation, given that for the first time in living history, six major unions have come out to openly declare their support for Ford and the Ontario PCs.  These are some of the same unions who were part of the “Working Families Coalition” established by Liberals and were a major thorn in the side of every Ontario PC leader since Ernie Eves.

As for Monday night’s debate, Ford treated it like most front-runners: try and stay above the fray, don’t engage too much with your opponents, and talk directly to Ontarians about what you have delivered over the past four years.  No knock-out punches meant Ford could get right back to the campaign trail and hammer home his message that he and the Ontario PCs are the only party to “Get It Done”.

PC Campaign Stops: Windsor, York Centre, Hamilton, Niagara-on-the-Lake

Del Duca could end the “progressive primary” once and for all

With both Andrea Horwath and Mike Schreiner testing positive for COVID-19, Del Duca has the opportunity to use the next five days to shore up support in key progressive battlegrounds while the two leaders are in isolation. Del Duca may focus more time in University—Rosedale to siphon attention away from Green candidate and former Environmental Commissioner Diane Saxe. Horwath’s absence from the campaign trail could give Del Duca the chance to sway races in downtown Toronto, where the NDP are trying to hold on to their gains from 2018. Although the Liberals’ have yet to close the gap between themselves and the PCs, widening the gap between the OLP and the other progressive parties could be their best shot at securing Official Opposition status as the party continues to rebuild.

Del Duca getting noticed

With google searches spiking for Steven Del Duca on debate night, the leader got some much-needed name recognition. In an attempt to position the OLP as the most viable option to beat the Conservatives, Del Duca emphasized tackling affordability by hitting on key points like “Buck a Ride” and $10 before and after school care. Yet, Del Duca didn’t deliver any memorable lines like Mike Schreiner’s noteworthy “Have you talked to a nurse lately?” and could have hit harder on Ford’s mishaps in the early stages of his Premiership.

These next few weeks, it will be interesting to see where Del Duca focuses his resources. Does he spend time with candidates who need a boost outside of Toronto? Or focus on his own seat in Vaughan-Woodbridge that is still up for grabs? Strong ground-game will be critical for the OLP as we approach June 2.

Liberal Campaign Stops: Scarborough, Barrie, Milton, Toronto, Etobicoke, Burlington, London, Mississauga

Union Blues for the NDP

With six major unions endorsing Ford, the NDP are facing an identity crisis. The NDP’s traditional strength as the pro-labour party is waning in the face of Ford’s “working for workers” approach.  Ford using his campaign stop in Hamilton – Horwath’s home turf – to bask in his two latest endorsements from the Ontario Pipe Trades Council and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers is sure to sting the party head who is already facing questions about her continued leadership.

Horwath received another blow this week when Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens endorsed Ford as well. The endorsement comes as Horwath tries to hold on to seats in the Windsor and Essex areas against an eager Ford looking to expand his electoral territory. Without incumbent candidates in Essex or Windsor—Tecumseh, the slippage of Horwath’s labour support and the strength of Ford’s campaign could see the NDP losing some long-held seats in southwestern Ontario.

Polling shows NDP trailing Liberals in 416

By the same token, regional polling shows the NDP also trail the Liberals in Toronto. The NDP’s status as Official Opposition after the 2018 election was due in large part to the downtown Toronto seats they wrestled away from a bruised Liberal party four years ago. If the NDP aren’t able to hold seats like Toronto Centre and Toronto—St. Paul’s, they could be facing a third place finish on June 2. This prospect should be increasingly concerning to Horwath and her team given that these Toronto seats as more within reach for the Liberals than that of their own leader. The Liberals will be sure to do whatever they can to regain their downtown Toronto electoral base as they continue to rebuild their party.

The core challenge of the NDP’s campaign – delivering dual, yet complementary, messages to their southwestern rural and downtown urban supporters – seems insurmountable. Horwath’s performance in this week’s debate wasn’t detrimental, but wasn’t noteworthy either. With over half the campaign behind us, Horwath’s focus continues to be differentiating herself from Del Duca to attract progressive voters. This, combined with a positive COVID test and minimum five-day hiatus from on-the-ground campaigning, means Horwath may run out of time to set her sights on unseating Ford.

NDP Campaign Stops: Stratford, Brampton, Toronto, Scarborough, Peterborough—Kawartha, Kingston, Smiths Falls, Nepean

PCs hold their lead after final leaders debate

To help provide a flavour of what the electorate might be thinking, StrategyCorp aggregates polling from the campaign. Get the latest updates at ontariopolls.ca via our website.

Beyond the Headlines

For the rest of the campaign, we’ll be giving you a look at what our strategists are seeing beyond the headlines of tradition election coverage. This week:

Momentum isn’t permanent. Doug Ford has led the polls since the election began, suggesting momentum continues to be on his side. Ford can’t rest on his laurels, however. Ford’s tour schedule has been less aggressive than that of the other party leaders, but if the PCs want to pick up new seats in tough battlegrounds – like Windsor and Timmins – Ford needs to be front and centre of the campaign to keep his momentum right until June 2.

Ford is Canada’s conservative. With Jason Kenney’s resignation, Ford is left as the focal point of Canadian conservative governance. Ford’s success to date, and expected re-election in June, could see his political style emulated by future conservative leaders across the country. Expect to see more centrist policy and populist rhetoric from conservative hopefuls moving forward.

Last Week’s Election Update. In case you missed it, get caught-up on last week’s campaign primer.

In case you missed it – Intended Consequences continues digging into the election

Intended Consequences, the official podcast of the StrategyCorp Institute, sat down with some of StrategyCorp’s own public affairs strategists as the election heated up.

Moderated by Chris Loreto, the Institute welcomed Liberal strategist Brian Teefy, and PC strategist John Penner, to take a look at how the opposition parties might turn the “race for second” into a race for government, and ridings to watch in battleground races across the province.

The episode is out now wherever you get your podcasts, on our YouTube channel, and on our website. Over the course of the campaign, we’ll be releasing weekly episodes with the latest insights from StrategyCorp’s own strategists. Subscribe today!