Ontario “Northern Uprising” election June 12 will be another one where the campaign really matters!

May 2nd, 2014 | By | Category: In Brief

Eric Grenier’s weighted average of polls of the Ontario political scene, as last updated on May 2, 2014.

GANATSEKWYAGON, ON. FRIDAY, MAY 2, 2014. 3:00 PM ET. So (as the premier often begins her remarks on any subject) … a lot has happened in Ontario politics today — and sooner, it seems fair to say, than the smart money thought.

This morning NDP leader Andrea Horwath announced that her party would not be supporting the Liberal minority government’s 2014 Budget, presented to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario just yesterday. The Tim Hudak Conservatives had already made clear they would not support the budget either.

With no way of getting her minority government’s revenue and expenditure plans passed by the Assembly, Premier Kathleen Wynne lost no time in visiting Lieutenant Governor David Onley not long after the lunch hour today. And he accepted her advice to dissolve the 40th provincial parliament, and call a fresh election for Thursday, June 12.

Kudos to Susanna Kelley for getting all this broadly correct, as long ago as April 21. (And an honourable mention to our own counterweights editors for reporting on Wednesday, April 23 : “On Monday Susanna Kelley, empress of the excellent ontarionewswatch.com, posted ‘ONW EXCLUSIVE: HORWATH, AIDES DECIDE TO FORCE SPRING ELECTION .’ The key message is that Ontario New Democrats will almost certainly vote against Ms Wynne’s Liberal minority government after the May 1 budget (a week tomorrow), and precipitate a fresh Ontario election only two and a half or so years after the last one. This has been called “a complete fabrication” by Ontario NDP house leader Gilles Bisson. But it matches the gossip some of us picked up at dinner with our favourite Toronto NDP activists over the Easter holiday weekend.”)

Just the day before yesterday, on April 30, 2014, Jonathan Scott — “a PR consultant at Key Gordon Communications and a Liberal political activist” — was advising Andrea Horwath NOT to do what she did this morning, in the pages of the Globe and Mail. (See “Should NDP trigger Ontario election? Just look to Jack Layton in 2005.”)

Late in 2005, Mr. Scott reminded us, Jack Layton’s federal NDP finally sided with the Harper Conservatives to bring down the Paul Martin Liberal minority government in Ottawa. And, as history has shown, this ushered in a Stephen Harper Conservative government that is still in office — and increasingly turning back the clock as much as it thinks it can on the achievements of progressive politics in Canada over the past several decades. In Ontario today, Scott went on, “polling suggests there is a chance the Conservatives could win a majority government.” And the biggest risk of doing just what Andrea Horwath has now done, “just like in 2005, is a Conservative government with an agenda combining the worst of Mike Harris and Rob Ford.”

* * * *

In fact, the latest Ontario polling averages (or “aggregations”) compiled by Eric Grenier at ThreeHundredEight.com (as of today, May 2) have Liberals 34%, PC 33%, NDP 24%, and Greens 7%. On M. Grenier’s calculations these popular vote percentages would give the Liberals 45 seats to the Conservatives 41, 20 for the NDP, and 1 for the Green Party (at last).

This is not all that different from the seat standings right now, as the 40th provincial parliament is dissolved : Liberals 48, Conservatives 37, NDP 21, Vacant 1. And that of course means just another Liberal minority government could finally be the next thing on June 12 , dependent on the NDP to stay in office!  (Even the barest of majorities in the present 107-seat Ontario Assembly is 54 seats.)

My own feeling at the moment is that anyone who tries to predict just what the outcome will be after not quite six weeks of campaigning, on June 12, is being rash indeed.

Just a few weeks ago Eric Grenier himself was commenting on how volatile recent Ontario polling has been. And he stressed that :”All three provincial leaders in Ontario have reason to believe they can turn the numbers to their benefit in a new campaign. Wynne has the incumbency advantage and her chief rival remains deeply unpopular at a personal level. Hudak has in his favour the public’s growing frustration with a Liberal government that has now been in power for over a decade. And Horwath boasts the best personal approval ratings that she could potentially turn into new votes if Ontarians move away from the two other parties.”

It is true enough that since then the NDP poll performance has been faltering somewhat, and the Conservatives have seemed more neck and neck with rather than nicely ahead of the Liberals. But if a week is a long time in politics, almost six weeks is even longer. As with recent provincial elections in BC and Quebec, the spring 2014 election in Canada’s most populous province seems bound to be one in which just what happens in the campaign will matter, and perhaps profoundly! How will the three leaders look up against each other on the campaign trail and in the TV debates? How well or badly will the gas plant scandal play? Will this year’s wild and crazy weather have an impact, good or bad? What about Rob Ford and the Green Party? Windmills, horse racing, the Ring of Fire, hunting and fishing, etc, etc? What will it mean if the “We The North” Raptors somehow do manage to stay in the NBA playoffs, etc, etc, etc, etc? Or if the Montreal Canadiens actually did win the Stanley Cup, at some climactic moment in the election campaign????

My own perception is that Premier Wynne has looked quite strong up against both Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath in their exchanges in the Legislative Assembly. But how will this look in rural Ontario, or rurban Ontario, or Northern Ontario — or Southwestern Ontario, which just may give the NDP a surprising break, as in 1990????  The only thing I feel confident about predicting right now is that for those of us who always find elections interesting and fun, this  “Northern Uprising” Ontario election of 2014 could be more interesting and fun than most. (Although I might change my mind if the Hudakians actually do win a majority government with another less than 40% of the popular vote, and go on to prove that their aggressively non-progressive conservative economic policies really are the kiss of death for almost all the Canadian people north of the Great Lakes. Meanwhile, best of luck “We The North”. You’re what we really need in Ontario politics today.)

Randall White is a former Ontario public servant, current public policy consultant, and the author of a number of books on Canadian history and politics, including Ontario 1610-1985 : A Political and Economic History, and Ontario Since 1985.

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