Doug Ford enters Ontario’s election year with a lead but a lot of uncertainty

As winter sets in on Ontario, the spring election undoubtedly feels far away – but with a campaign officially starting in just over four months, the province’s political parties are stepping up preparations.

Prime Minister 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 fighting separately to position themselves as the only person and party to defeat Ford and his progressive Conservatives.

Meanwhile, Green Party leader Mike Schreiner acknowledges that he does not want to form a government, but wants to increase the number of Green MPPs. If there is a slim minority, there is even a chance he can keep the balance of power.

Take Ford’s high-profile roller coaster period as a premiere 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 foundation for a deeply politically interesting 2022.

NDP’s Andrea Horwath is entering her fourth campaign as party leader. The party’s total mandates have increased at each subsequent election so far under her leadership. (Sue Goodspeed / CBC)

Progressive Conservative leadership is the most important consistency in publicly available Ontario polls conducted since the September federal election. Polls have been published by polling companies EKOS, Leger Marketing, Mainstreet Research and the Angus Reid Institute

“As the second and third waves of the pandemic disappeared, we saw that things were actually not so bad for Prime Minister Ford and the progressive Conservatives, a little bit from what led him to be elected Prime Minister (in 2018), but still in strong shape, “said Andrew Enns, executive vice president of Leger Marketing.

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

Greg Lyle, chairman of the Innovative Research Group, a Toronto-based polling company, says the key to a PC party’s victory will be to attract voters who do not identify as PC supporters but who want Ford to be prime minister.

“There are a lot of Ontarians who think that no matter what mistakes he makes, he owns up to them and he tries to do his best,” Lyle said. “There are a lot of Ontarians who think he’s terrible, but more than enough who think he’s doing a good job.”

Lyle says Ford’s personal approval ratings have improved since he fell last spring over his handling of the third wave of the pandemic. For 2022, a major unknown is how the Ford government’s response to the Omicron variant will contribute to voter turnout.

Steven Del Duca won the Ontario Liberal leadership at the party’s convention in March 2020, just days before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the province. (Haydn Watters / CBC)

As the official opposition, the NDP is – at least in theory – best positioned to run for office as the natural alternative to Ford’s PCs. However, the party’s polls tend to lag behind their leader’s approval ratings, challenging the new Democrats to build on their total of 40 seats in the last election. In Ontario, 63 seats are needed to win a majority.

The NDP’s campaign director, Michael Balagus, sees opportunities among the 60 percent or more of Ontarians who say polls say they want a new government.

“The challenge for us now is to show the people that we can be that government,” Balagus said in an interview. “From the research we do, and from the anecdotal evidence, just talking to people out there, I think there’s a real openness like never before for us.”

Horwath is entering his fourth campaign as leader. While she has increased the party’s total number of seats in each subsequent election so far, anything other than forming a government this time around is likely to be seen as a failure.

In an interview, she said she believes many Ontarians are looking to 2022 to give them hope for the future.

“I think my job over the next many months is not only to talk about that they can have a government that really takes care of what they think is important, but that I can be the prime minister. and the NDP can be that government. “said Horwath.

The Ontario legislature is holding winter holidays until Family Day in February, but behind the scenes, the parties are in full swing preparing for the 2022 election campaign. (Mike Crawley / CBC)

For Del Duca and the Liberals, the challenge is a mirror image of what Horwath and the NDP face: the Left’s polls tend to surpass the approval of Del Duca, who has struggled to gain recognition among voters.

“I understand as a first-time opposition party leader that some people in the province do not know who I am, but I see it as an opportunity,” Del Duca said in an interview.

“I think people are looking for responsible management that is really competent who actually knows how to get the job done,” Del Duca added.

Despite the strength of the liberal brand in Ontario – probably supported by the federal liberals – the provincial party faces some real logistical challenges heading into the 2022 campaign, the head of which is that it has such a long way to go from the just seven seats, that is. won in 2018.

Liberal fundraising totals lag behind both the NDPs and the PCs. The Liberal Party chose not to spend money on advertising in the fall as their rivals ran significant campaigns, including attack ads targeting Del Duca.

Greens party leader Mike Schreiner unveiled his party’s platform in Toronto on Monday. (CBC)

“We’ve tested all the ads, and both the NDP and the Conservative ad are effective in pulling votes away from the Liberals and driving down the benefits of Del Duca,” Lyle said. He believes that the way voters feel about leaders can be a crucial factor in the election.

Enns said Ford could be an “effective weapon” for the PCs when he comes out among voters as a “sincere, call-them-as-I-see-them-type political leader.”

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

“I want to be honest with people, we’re not going to go from one seat to being premier,” Schreiner said. “But if we can go from one seat to three seats to five seats, we can increase our influence in Queen’s Park.”

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