The consensus seems to be that Ontario’s current Liberal government and Premier Kathleen Wynne are headed for defeat come the June 2018 election. Recent polls have seen the government trailing third behind the Conservatives and the New Democrats. An IPSOs poll in mid-September also suggested that most Ontario voters –- 76 percent -- want a change in government.
Two cabinet ministers (Treasury Board President Liz Sandals and Deputy Premier Deb Matthews) recently announced that they will not be seeking re-election which some may interpret as a signal that there is not a lot of confidence in the government’s future past June. This is on top of Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid who announced last month he won’t run for re-election and Environment Minister Glen Murray in the summer.
As well, the Premier’s personal approval rating is low. There is the baggage of nearly 15 years of Liberal government rule including the demise of the manufacturing sector, high electricity prices, the high debt and deficit, and the gas plants scandal to which can be added the current trial underway in Sudbury. And the electricity sector seems to be a problem that never seems to diminish in scope given the recent Auditor General’s report that the Wynne government’s plan to reduce electricity prices will eventually be higher cost in the long run.
Yet, one should not count Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals out yet. Recent polls have suggested there has been a bit of a rebound in Liberal support with a September 30th Forum poll suggesting the Liberals and PCs are tied for support in the vote rich Toronto area. Given the recent rebound in Ontario’s economy, the electorate may be less keen to turf the governing party in favor of gambling the PCs might do a better job with the economy. As well, there have been a range of initiatives –the minimum wage hike, changes to real estate rules, the basic income pilot that are likely to sway NDP supporters. And most Ontarians will not understand that a lower electricity bill today will eventually mean much higher bills tomorrow under the current Liberal plan. As for the departing cabinet ministers, another interpretation is that after 15 years one can expect to see the departure of veterans and renewal of candidates.
It all comes down to the campaign. The Liberals in Canada, whether at the provincial level or the federal level tend to campaign from the left and then govern from the right. They are usually quite successful in running campaigns with policies that take enough votes from the NDP to gain office. They are somewhat less successful in governing like PCs when it comes to economic matters given that seems to be a congenital Liberal predisposition to grand social, economic and industrial interventionist strategies. However, demonstrating this to the public requires a strong, inspiring and methodical policy campaign by the PCs and to date PC leader Patrick Brown despite any lead in the polls has yet to capture the imagination of Ontario voters.
In the end, one can imagine that Liberal support bottomed early enough this summer to allow the Liberals to position themselves as “the underdog” and come back from behind. Indeed, one wonders if this was not the strategy all along to allow the opposition parties to capture the lead in the polls and peak early. Of course, such a strategy can still backfire despite the recent policy stage being set by the Liberals if events deal them economic or political shocks. And there is always the strong possibility that the opposition leaders might finally get their act together and campaign more effectively.
It is going to be an entertaining next few months in the lead up to the election.