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Mid-campaign regional analysis: Ontario

Written by

Ali Salam

When we checked in on Ontario before the start of the federal election campaign, we identified some issues and themes we predicted would be a factor in how the province would vote. With only a few weeks to go until Election Day, it’s a good time to take stock of what has turned out as expected, what surprises came up, and where it goes from here.

Our prediction of Ontario Premier Doug Ford being a factor has been true—but not exactly like we expected. The Premier has been conspicuous by his lack of profile, even getting attention for his absence thus far as fellow Conservative Premier of Alberta, Jason Kenney, campaigned in the GTA’s 905 suburbs this past weekend.

That, however, hasn’t stopped Liberal leader Justin Trudeau from bringing up Mr. Ford at every possible opportunity, and ensuring that he’s comparing his federal opponent, Andrew Scheer, to the Ontario Premier whenever possible. The Liberals continue to double down on this deliberate “link” strategy.

Has it worked? Possibly. The Liberals continue to seemingly hold an edge in vote-rich Ontario. But nothing is certain yet.

All of the leaders have been spending time in Ontario regularly, both in the GTA and along the Highway 401 corridor. For Scheer, Trudeau and the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh, this has included both announcements and rallies with Ontario’s various ethnocultural communities.

Testing Trudeau’s support (and raising questions of his judgement) was the unexpected issue stemming from the revelation that he had previously worn brownface and blackface as a teenager and young man.

Most interestingly, however, was that while his polling numbers dipped in the immediate days following the story breaking, those numbers have recovered and the whole affair seems to have had no significant impact on Liberal fortunes thus far.

By contrast, Mr. Scheer’s own issues over—for example—the revelation that he is currently a dual citizen of Canada and the United States seem to be resonating negatively with voters in these early days of the story, according to recent polling by Nanos. Whether a true dent is made in his Ontario fortunes, however, is unclear.

Meanwhile, Mr. Singh’s steady presence in Ontario has yet to move the dials in his favour, and Elizabeth May’s efforts have yet to register in any significant way beyond the support she had at the start of the campaign.

From a policy perspective, Mr. Trudeau has made a strong play for urban voters through his campaign promises on banning various firearms and working with provinces to expand his plans further, announcing the policy several times in Ontario—much as we predicted he would. And Scheer’s tax cut measures are bound to appeal to certain segments of the Ontario audience, and a bit more flesh is expected to be revealed with his platform, which is likely to be announced after the upcoming French language debate.

So what comes next? Provided that there aren’t any knockout punches in Thursday’s French-language debate, the question for Ontario voters will be a referendum on leadership. On the progressive end of the voter spectrum, expect to see questions around strategic voting become a part of the election conversation.

One thing is certain regarding Ontario: the fight for votes will get progressively more fierce as we move toward election day on October 21. Platform promises will be re-announced, select 905 ridings will be targeted, and campaign teams will be pouring over internal numbers on best to position their leaders and candidates in the final few weeks.

Battleground Ontario is exactly that this time around—again.

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——— Ali Salam is a former Senior Vice-President, Public Affairs at NATIONAL Public Relations