Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Wednesday May 10, 2022
As cost of living soars, affordability becomes top Ontario election issue
In every Ontario election poll that’s publicly available, the number one concern of voters is the rising cost of living.
Affordability has rocketed past the perennial top issues of health — even after two years of a global pandemic — and jobs, with the unemployment rate at record lows.
While the Ontario party leaders are often talking on the campaign trail about making life more affordable, it’s a wonder that they’re not hammering the issue even harder, given how strongly it’s resonating with voters.
“The smart politicians won’t just talk about [the cost of living] as an issue, they will understand it’s a character test,” said Greg Lyle, a veteran pollster and president of Innovative Research Group.
“People want to hear them talk about the issue in a way that says that those politicians understand the problem that the voters are facing,” Lyle said in an interview with CBC News.
Recent polling by Lyle’s firm, as well as by Earnscliffe Strategies, Ipsos and Abacus Data clearly shows cost-of-living concerns mattering most to Ontario voters right now.
“It’s on the minds of so many people,” Lyle said. “If you [as a politician] miss this issue, then it sounds like to the average voter that you’re not listening to them.”
What’s not clear from the polls is which party voters believe can best tackle it.
Lyle’s polling suggests Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative Party has an advantage on the issue over the Ontario Liberals and the NDP, He believes this is as much or more a legacy of the parties’ long-term reputations among voters than a reaction to any particular measures the parties had offered on affordability prior to his late April polling.
“Part of the problem that the Liberals have is that they’re blamed for high electricity prices, as Ontarians perceive it, and so they have to beat that history to get ahead on the issue,” said Lyle.
Yet, when asked which party would do a better job on affordability, the most common response was none of the parties, which suggests there is some opportunity for the Liberals and the NDP to gain some ground on the PCs.
Because affordability has emerged only recently as the dominant issue, Anderson characterizes public opinion on it as “volatile.” He therefore believes there’s significant growth potential for a party that offers voters an attractive package of ways to make life more affordable.
Affordability overtook COVID-19 as the top issue only late last year after the worst of the pandemic appeared to be behind Ontario. It’s almost as if from March of 2020, people accepted that the pandemic had to be the priority, but then their pent-up concerns over the cost of living burst forth.
Mix in home prices skyrocketing by 44 per cent in just two years, plus a spike in inflation with Ontarians confronting record-high gas prices and soaring grocery bills daily, and you’ve got voters demanding to know what the parties will do to make life easier on their wallets. (CBC News)