The Inside Agenda Blog

Inside Ontario: The 2011 Provincial Election Heats Up

by Mark Brosens Sunday August 21, 2011


This week in the Inside Ontario blog:


A Nanos poll reports a tightening election race

Liberals and PCs go on the attack, the NDP goes positive

Ford and McGuinty discuss subway funding

Drugs, crime and what the party leaders did in university


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A Nanos Research poll released last week reports the gap in public support between the PCs and Liberals is tightening in the weeks before the Ontario election campaign formally begins.

When respondents were asked which party they would vote for locally: 42.1 per cent said the PCs (compared to 41.3 per cent in May, 2011); 37.6 per cent said the Liberals (compared to 34 per cent in May); 16.2 per cent said the NDP (compared to 18.7 per cent in May); 3.4 per cent said the Greens (compared to 5.4 per cent in May); and 16.9 per cent were undecided (compared to 13 per cent in May). There was a 3.4 per cent margin of error 19 times out of 20 on the results.  

However, the other results from this poll reveal an even closer race. When asked who would make the best premier: 30 per cent said Dalton McGuinty, leader of the Liberals; 29 per cent said Tim Hudak, leader of the PCs; 12 per cent said Andrea Horwath, leader of the NDP; three per cent said Mike Schreiner, leader of the Greens; 15 per cent were undecided; and 11 per cent said none of them.

When asked who is the most trustworthy: 28 per cent said McGuinty; 23 per cent said Hudak; 14 per cent said Horwath; three per cent said Schreiner; 19 per cent said none of them; and 14 per cent were undecided. 

Only one-in-five women said Hudak is the most trustworthy of the party leaders, suggesting there is a gender divide in this election campaign

When asked who has the best vision for Ontario?s future: 29 per cent said McGuinty; 26 per cent said Hudak; 13 per cent said Horwath; three per cent said Schreiner; 17 per cent were undecided; and 13 per cent said none of them. 

Pollster Nik Nanos told the Globe and Mail these findings suggest the provincial Liberals are unlikely face the same fate as their federal cousins who only won 11 Ontario seats in May?s national election.

Hudak dismissed the assertion that this poll shows the Liberals are gaining momentum. He said polls will go up and down, but the PCs are the only party that can remove McGuinty from office

Tasha Kheirriddin, columnist with the National Post, observed that shifts in public opinion over the past year threaten what once appeared to be a certain PC government. She thinks the PCs should emulate Toronto mayor Rob Ford?s election strategy of focusing on pocketbook issues. Kheirriddin believes the province may be ?sleepwalking? towards another Liberal government, because the PCs aren?t offering real change. 

L. Ian MacDonald, editor-in-chief of Policy Options, argued that despite the uptick in Liberal support (which he attributes to government and partisan advertising) fundamental signs point to a PC majority government. For MacDonald the keys to PC victory are: Ontario?s have-not status; the deficit; the fatigue of a two-term Liberal government; and the fact that the federal Conservatives won 73 of Ontario?s 106 seats in May?s national election.

Regardless of the pundits? opinions, the result of the coming provincial election could be difficult to predict. As Hershell Ezrin, who was the principal secretary to former Premier David Peterson, told, many of the old rules of electioneering may no longer apply to contemporary election campaigns, because of factors such as fixed election dates and low voter turnout.


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Nik Nanos said the narrowing gap between Tim Hudak and Dalton McGuinty was likely the result of Liberal negative political advertising. Certainly, all the major parties have started making their pitch to the public through political ads, even though the campaign hasn?t formally begun yet.

For instance, the Ontario Liberals are claiming that a PC government will cut services.



Since June this PC ad has been trying to associate McGuinty with tax increases.



In contrast, the NDP has released a positive radio ad on the party?s vision for Ontario.



It appears that positive ads will be a feature of the NDP?s campaign. On Friday, Andrea Horwath called for new political advertising rules that will require party leaders to appear in their negative ads to say they approved the message (similar to the American practice). Horwath said this rule may reduce the number of attack ads. The party has also launched a website called Stop the Smears that claims Ontarians are ?tired of US-style smear campaigns and negative advertising.? Stop the Smears is also on Twitter and curates a list of Ontario?s ?top smearers.? However, some were quite offended when they found themselves on the top smearer list. For instance, Mark Sholdice, a PhD history candidate at the University of Guelph, found himself on this list and tweeted:



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Last Wednesday, Toronto mayor Rob Ford asked Dalton McGuinty for $650 million in funding for the Sheppard Avenue subway extension.

The provincial government had promised the City of Toronto up to $650 million for the Sheppard line if the Eglinton LRT line, which is being built by the provincial government, is completed under budget. Ford told reporters that he thinks the Eglinton line will cost much less than the budgeted $8.2 billion, so he wants provincial funding for the Sheppard line now.

There was no funding announcement immediately after the meeting. Ford said he will also ask Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath if they will fund the Sheppard subway line extension if they are elected premier. PC transportation critic Frank Klees wouldn?t commit to funding the Sheppard line, but said his party has promised $35 billion for new infrastructure projects if it forms government. Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne questioned the Tories? commitment to public transit, citing the Mike Harris government?s decision to scrap the Eglinton subway while it was under construction in the 1990s. Cheri Di Novo, NDP MPP for Parkdale ? High Park, said the Liberals shouldn?t have scrapped Transit City in the first place. The NDP is promising to fund 50 per cent of public transit operating costs if fares are frozen for four years. 

In March, Ford had threatened to sic Ford Nation on the Ontario Liberals if the provincial government did not provide $150 million in funding to Toronto. However, the Globe and Mail suggested that Ford?s influence in provincial politics may have waned, since recently Ford has been heavily criticized for proposed municipal service cuts and the provincial Liberals? public support has increased. 
In May, Minister of Transportation Kathleen Wynne was interviewed by the Agenda with Steve Paikin about the expansion of the TTC and Rob Ford?s influence in provincial electoral politics.



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Last week, Tim Hudak announced that if he?s elected premier he will create a registry of houses that were used as meth labs and grow ops. Hudak said this will protect home buyers from the problems associated with houses used for drug production, such as mould.

Hudak also criticize Dalton McGuinty for not creating such a registry himself. The PCs are trying to portray the Liberals as soft on crime. As Luc Montminy, a Twitter user who doesn?t provide a bio, tweeted:


However, the policy announcement and electoral strategy was overshadowed by Hudak admitting that he had ?experimented? with marijuana when he was in university. Dalton McGuinty and Andrea Horwath have also admitted to smoking pot in the past.


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To learn more about Ontario provincial politics, visit TVO?s Civics 101 microsite.

And to stay on top of the issues that will shape the next provincial election campaign go to the Your Vote 2011 page.

Follow Mark Brosens on Twitter. 


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