State of Play – StrategyCorp’s Weekly Election Update

The first full week of the campaign is behind us, and StrategyCorp has you covered with the latest developments on where the election is heading.

The winner of the “race for second” is…

Steven Del Duca. Week one of the election saw the Liberals present a competent campaign, successfully unveiling a number of policies that appealed to families and more progressive voters. A series of well curated events provided evidence that Steven Del Duca can handle the pressures of a province-wide campaign.

Seizing an opportunity to capitalize on a good first week, the Liberals announced their full platform Monday morning, committing to a balanced budget faster than the PCs. The balanced budget was prefaced on more optimistic revenue projections (not new taxes) – in line with Auditor General and Financial Accountability Officer analyses – and a more traditional contingency fund (Ford increased the contingency fund in their pre-election budget). Del Duca made the pitch that the Liberals have a strong fiscal plan (like the PCs) but different priorities (like the NDP).

The polls will confirm if the Liberals made any progress in the race to be the progressive alternative to Ford. If Del Duca emerges as the most credible candidate to replace Ford, it will be interesting to see both how the Liberals attack Ford and how the other parties attack Del Duca.

Can the Liberals mount a successful ad campaign that reminds Ontarians of Ford’s missteps during the pandemic and his first year in office? Will Del Duca be able to shake his record as a Minister in the unpopular Wynne government? Del Duca’s shot at cementing himself at least in second, or even becoming Premier, now hinges on his ability to do both.

Liberal Campaign Stops: Kitchener, Ottawa, Kingston, Scarborough, Toronto, North Bay, Etobicoke, Vaughan, Ajax, Markham, St. Catharines

Horwath’s NDP are stuck in third

The NDP have yet to move the needle on Ford, but in fairness, none of the opposition parties have. However, with the Liberals in a more comfortable second place, Horwath needs to show voters why Ford doesn’t deserve their vote, and then she needs to make the case that she, not Del Duca, should be put in charge instead.

Doing so will be a challenge. Del Duca is running on a progressive policy blueprint with many affordability baubles the electorate has an appetite for. The Conservatives are offering similar pocketbook promises, but the NDP tend to shy away from both.

Think about the NDP’s approach to better fund municipal transit operations to give municipalities the option to sustainably reduce fares versus Del Duca’s temporary “buck-a-ride” promise.  It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the public is less excited about policy answers to address affordability issues in the long run than gimmicky solutions that feel good now but may create more problems or not address the problem at all.

When it comes to Ford, Horwath must draw sharp contrasts against his priorities and his competence. While Ford is the guy who will say ‘yes’ to everything, Horwath needs voters to think he can only be counted on to deliver results for “his buddies.”

She also needs Ontarians to think Ford cannot make hard choices about complicated issues – a thread she and other leaders began to pull at when attacking Ford’s pandemic record this week. Horwath will need to do this while not being seen as overly mean or negative – difficult to accomplish when running against the optimistic “Get it Done” and “A Place to Grow” messages of the PCs and Liberals.

Horwath needs to help reluctant voters see it’s time to change governments again after just four years, and she needs to be seen as the best option available in her forth election. With one week down and only three to go it’s not clear that she’s out ahead on either.

NDP Campaign Stops: Burlington, Brampton, Bowmanville, Ayr, Sudbury, North Bay, Barrier, Brampton, Waterdown, Thamesford, Brantford-Brant, Elgin-Middlesex-London, Essex, Chatham-Kent, Perth-Wellington

Which ridings is Doug Ford watching more closely than others?

With the Liberals and the NDP focusing much of their time and money on Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area, Ford and the PCs are not-so-quietly targeting ridings outside the traditional PC battlegrounds. Doing so could secure Ford an extra few seats to make up for the unpredictability of races in the 416 and 905. The PCs are also keeping a close eye on their incumbent Cabinet Ministers, some of whom are in races that – win or lose – might provide clues into the future of Ford’s main rival: the Liberals.

  • Timmins – typically an NDP stronghold, the PCs are vying to pick up this seat in the North. With promises to restore passenger rail between Timmins and Toronto, rebuild Highway 101, and deliver on a critical minerals strategy to open up the Ring of Fire, Ford is hoping Timmins Mayor George Pirie can take the seat from long-time MPP Gilles Bisson.
  • Essex – Ford is also hoping to expand his reach in southwestern Ontario by snagging Essex from the NDP. Without an incumbent in the race, the PCs have a chance to drive their “working for workers” message supported by large investments in critical infrastructure, like $4 billion to “get it done” on broadband expansion and expanding Highway 3.
  • Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte – currently held by the PCs, Ford’s Attorney General Doug Downey is facing off against Barrie mayor, Jeff Lehman. Although Downey won the seat handily in 2018, a revived Liberal party with a star candidate in the race could mean the riding is in play. Lehman won his 2018 mayoral election with nearly 91 per cent of the vote – if his local name recognition translates to provincial votes, the Liberals could secure a key seat as they rebuild the party.
  • Vaughan—Woodbridge – held by loyal Ford Minister Michael Tibollo, Del Duca is looking to win back the seat he lost in 2018. Del Duca’s election is not guaranteed, however. The PCs are polling well in the 905 and Del Duca has the competing challenges of securing his own seat while campaigning as Premier-in-waiting across the rest of the Province. If Del Duca is unable to pull off a win in his own backyard, his future as leader could be called into question – especially if star candidates like Lehman make it to Queen’s Park.

PC Campaign Stops: Bowmanville, Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay, Timmins, North Bay, Kitchener, London, Chatham-Kent-Leamingston, Windsor-Tecumseh

PCs continue to lead the polls in majority territory

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:

It’s a trap! Late last week, Del Duca said that a Liberal government would add the COVID-19 vaccine to the mandatory immunization list for schools. This was an attempt to get the Ford Tories talking about vaccines like Erin O’Toole’s Conservatives did – with little success – in the last federal election. The Ford Tories did not take the bait, giving this potential wedge issue little leverage.

The NDP haven’t figured out how to fight a two-front war. The NDP have the toughest campaign to fight. They’re in a battle for progressive voters in the 416 against the Liberals, and for blue collar voters in the 519 and the North against the Tories. These are very different electorates. The NDP is struggling to get out a core message that allows them to hold and grow seats in each region.

Doug Ford could be the only party leader that survives the election. With signs currently pointing to Ford’s re-election, Horwath’s NDP leadership could come to an end after four failed attempts to become Premier. If Del Duca is unable to wrestle his 905 seat back from PC Minister Michael Tibollo, he could face scrutiny over his ability to continue rebuilding the party. Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner has only won a single election, in a traditionally red riding, when the Liberals were at an all-time low in 2018 – his return to Queen’s Park isn’t guaranteed either.