Ontario remains a key battleground for Election 2019 with very little set in stone beyond a near assurance that as the weather cools down, things will heat up on the campaign trail. Here are some of the barometer issues at the starting gate.
Will leadership dynamics trump local issues?
Whether it was Jean Chrétien dispatching a jet-skiing Stockwell Day or Stephen Harper knocking off Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff in quick succession, the people heading the campaigns tend to matter most—and this is true once again for the upcoming federal election. As far as Ontario is concerned, the leader that matters the most today is Doug Ford.
Campaigning against Premier Ford has been the Liberals’ preferred tactic since Ford’s election: tying Andrew Scheer to Premier Ford’s public relations challenges, as well as subordinating Scheer as a junior partner to the more well-known public personas of Ford and newly-elected Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.
The tactic has proven effective so far. Both Frank Graves of EKOS and Quito Maggi of Mainstreet Research tweeted recently that their national polling, which had shown a sizeable lead for the Conservatives, was now within the margin of error. In Ontario, that means a 10- to 15-point lead for the Liberals respectively, strengthening Trudeau’s chances of returning at least a Liberal minority government.
Will environment and energy remain divisive?
Conflict around the environment and energy remain a constant backdrop in determining how Ontarians will line up in October, with strong opposition to carbon tax measures from Scheer and his provincial backers. While Ontarians aren’t as directly invested in the file as Albertans and British Columbians, it’s worth noting that issues around both environmental degradation and tax burdens have generated strong views and polling shifts in recent months.
How much will global affairs hit home?
The Liberal Government has had some trouble maintaining the support of the two largest ethno-cultural populations in Ontario. While Chinese Canadians’ support has been traditionally balanced across the political spectrum, the Government’s diplomatic challenges with China may have given Scheer an ability to speak to Chinese Canadian voters in GTA suburbs like Markham and Richmond Hill, which were new fertile grounds for the provincial Conservatives in the last election.
Similarly, Trudeau’s criticized India trip drew negative mainstream media attention to the South Asian community and generated some resentment for the conversations it generated. With large voter populations in the GTA’s 905 belt as well as other urban centres such as Ottawa, the Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge corridor and London, South Asian Canadians will certainly be paying attention to how federal leaders present themselves.
Will the Liberals rally voters around Pharmacare and gun control?
This general volatility is probably why Trudeau and his Cabinet rolled out two key policies in June that are likely to receive support from a large number of Ontarians: a national pharmacare plan and a handgun ban. The national pharmacare promise cuts across party lines, geography and age demographics and puts the Liberals in conversation amongst voters who may not otherwise have considered them as a ballot box option. Similarly, a handgun ban speaks directly to urban voters concerned about gun violence where they live.
How this plays out will, in part, be defined by how Andrew Scheer and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh reply to Trudeau’s current policies and those in his platform. While Scheer has been actively criticizing the Prime Minister’s decisions, sometimes with policy of his own, Singh has been significantly less visible—a problem for Scheer as Conservative designs on government are partially dependent on progressive vote-splitting between Liberal and NDP supporters.
——— Written by Ali Salam, former Senior Vice-President, Public Affairs, and Gordon Taylor Lee, Managing Partner, NATIONAL Public Relations