Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday December 31, 2021

Doug Ford heads into Ontario’s election year with a lead, but much uncertainty

As winter takes hold in Ontario, the spring election undoubtedly feels a long way away — but with campaigning officially beginning in little more than four months, the province’s political parties are ramping up preparations.

Premier Doug Ford will seek re-election during the month-long campaign that culminates in voting day on June 2. His rivals for the job, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca, are each vying to position themselves as the only person and party who can defeat Ford and his Progressive Conservatives. 

Meanwhile, Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner acknowledges he won’t form government but wants to boost the number of Green MPPs. If there’s a slim minority, there’s even a chance he could hold the balance of power.

Take Ford’s roller-coaster high-profile term as premier and throw in all the variables of the COVID-19 pandemic — including the impact of the Omicron variant or whatever comes next — and Ontario has the makings of a profoundly politically interesting 2022.

A Progressive Conservative lead is the chief consistency in publicly available Ontario polling conducted since the federal election in September. Polls have been released by polling firms EKOS, Leger Marketing, Mainstreet Research and the Angus Reid Institute 
“As the second and third wave of the pandemic dissipated, we saw things actually not too bad for Premier Ford and the Progressive Conservatives, down a little bit from what got him elected premier (in 2018) but still in strong shape,” said Andrew Enns, executive vice president of Leger Marketing. 

“But we’ve seen that lead erode over the fall period, and it’s actually tightened up a bit,” added Enns. 

Greg Lyle, president of Innovative Research Group, a Toronto-based polling firm, says key to a PC party victory will be attracting voters who don’t identify as PC supporters but who do want Ford to be premier.
“There are a lot of Ontarians who think that whatever mistakes he makes, he owns up to them and he’s trying to do his best, said Lyle. “There are many Ontarians that think he’s horrible, but more than enough that think he’s doing a good job.” 

Lyle says Ford’s personal approval ratings have improved since sagging in the spring over his handling of the third wave of the pandemic. For 2022, a big unknown is how the Ford government’s response to the Omicron variant will factor into the voter mood.

As the official opposition, the NDP is — in theory at least — best positioned to pitch themselves to voters as the natural alternative to Ford’s PCs. However, the party’s polling numbers tend to lag behind their leader’s approval ratings, posing a challenge for the New Democrats to build on their 40-seat total in the last election. In Ontario, 63 seats are needed to win a majority.

The NDP’s campaign director, Michael Balagus, sees opportunity among the 60 per cent or more of Ontarians who tell pollsters they want a new government.  

For Del Duca and the Liberals, the challenge is a mirror image of the one facing Horwath and the NDP: the Liberal Party’s polling numbers are tending to outpace approval of Del Duca, who has struggled to gain recognition among voters.

“I understand as a first-time-out opposition party leader that some people in the province don’t know who I am, but I look at that as an opportunity,” Del Duca said in an interview.

Despite the strength of the Liberal brand in Ontario — likely buoyed by the federal Liberals — the provincial party faces some real logistical challenges heading into the 2022 campaign, chief of which is that it has such a long way to go from the mere seven seats it won in 2018.

Liberal fundraising totals lag behind both the NDP’s and PCs’. The Liberal party chose not to spend any money on advertising this fall when their rivals were running significant campaigns, including attack ads targeting Del Duca. 

For the Green Party, Schreiner says his election goal is to win a few more seats, with an eye to the progress made by his provincial counterparts in British Columbia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.

“I’ll be honest with people, we’re not going to go from one seat to being premier,” said Schreiner. “But if we can go from one seat to three seats to five seats, we can increase our influence at Queen’s Park.” (CBC) https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/ontario-election-2022-preview-1.6293521

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