ANALYSIS: For the Wynne Liberals, the Ontario election has always been ‘Save the Furniture’

WATCH ABOVE: Only by going up high can you understand what's happening on the ground in the Ontario election. The view from the air tells a different story than the one you might be seeing. Alan Carter has more.

Kathleen Wynne did something Thursday night she’d never done in the current Ontario election campaign: She made a stop in a riding where  Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives are the incumbent.

And on Friday, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath will do something almost as rare. For just the second time in this campaign, she’ll be playing defence, making a stop in a northern Ontario riding her party has held since 1999.

READ MORE: NDP overtakes Liberals as the ‘Anti-Ford’ party, according to Ipsos poll

A Global News analysis of the campaign itineraries of each leader adds some new data points to support what multiple polls have already shown. The NDP, in second place, have the wind at their backs. The front-running Progressive Conservatives are largely playing it safe. Meanwhile, the Liberal mission from day one appears to have been “Save the Furniture” by placing the leader in a series of ridings considered Liberal strongholds like Ottawa-Vanier, Mississauga-Malton, Guelph and London North Centre.

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Struggling to avoid becoming the third party in Queen’s Park, Wynne has been campaigning in several ridings her party won by 20 points or more in 2014.

“The Ontario Liberal Party is calling its campaign ‘Care Over Cuts’ but it should be called ‘Save the Furniture’ [or]’Shore the Core’ because that’s what [Wynne’s] doing,” said Warren Kinsella, a Toronto-based lawyer and political consultant who played a key role in the election war rooms for winning Liberal campaigns for both Jean Chretien and Dalton McGuinty. “You can tell that by the ridings she’s visiting.”

READ MORE: Doug Ford says Ontario PC Party looking into allegations involving candidate who resigned

Up to and including Friday’s published itineraries, Wynne has made or will make 28 campaign stops but just six, or 21 per cent, have been in ridings where one of her opponents is the incumbent.In fact, on Thursday night she visited for the first time a riding where the PCs are the incumbent, stopping in at a brewery and pub to meet with a handful of supporters in the GTA riding of Whitby.

“Everything can change, but when you look at where she’s going and what’s doing, it’s not a growth strategy,” said Karl Belanger, a veteran of several federal NDP campaigns, including the “Orange Wave” of 2011 that vaulted Jack Layton into the opposition leader’s office in Ottawa.

(For this analysis, each leaders’ appearance at the northern debate, held in the PC riding of Parry Sound-Muskoka, was omitted from the calculations.)

DECISION ONTARIO: New promises and new candidate controversies. Alan Carter has more.

Decision Ontario: New promises and new candidate controversies
Decision Ontario: New promises and new candidate controversies

Whitby, like most Ontario ridings, has had its riding boundaries re-drawn for this campaign and has been given a new name. For this analysis of leaders’ itineraries, Global News has used a transposition of the 2014 general election results on to the new 2018 boundaries to determine which party can be considered the incumbent.

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So, for example, if those 2018 boundaries existed in 2014, the vote in Whitby would have been 41.4 per cent for the PCs, 32.8 per cent for the Liberals, and 21 per cent for the NDP.

Global News has relied on two sources to provide it with the transposition of the 2014 vote to the 2018 boundaries. One is researcher Kyle Hutton, the other is an independent researcher who preferred to remain anonymous. Each transposition, arrived at separately, is identical.


The NDP has been most active playing offence, putting its leader in ridings held by an opponent. Of Horwath’s, 23 campaign appearances to Friday, 18 appearances or 87 per cent were in ridings held by Liberals or Conservatives.

“Where the leaders go is a great indicator of how the campaigns feel about its prospects,” said Belanger. “Of course, you want to plant the flag in your own riding from time-to-time but if you’re able to go into enemy territory, it’s because you have a good chance of shoring up a win locally.”

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The Progressive Conservatives have played a more balanced game, perhaps a reflection of the party’s position as the comfortable frontrunner in the polls. Of Ford’s 24 campaign appearances — whistle stops, announcements, and rallies — 16, or about two-thirds, were in enemy territory.

Political operatives have differing opinions on the impacts of a visit to a riding by a leader. One study of the 2010 general election in the United Kingdom concluded that a leaders’ visit could help boost vote share for that leaders’ party in a given riding but had little impact on voter turnout.

Veterans of Canadian campaign war rooms believe that in jurisdictions like Ontario or Canada, where party leaders have a lot of ground to cover, a leaders’ visit can help attract new volunteers and cash to a local campaign and that that, in turn, can help improve both a party’s turnout and vote share.

“It can and sometimes does,” said Belanger.  “A leaders’ tour is instrumental in building your narrative and telling your story because of the intensity of the media coverage and the scrutiny by the public.”

Election panel weights in on controversies
Election panel weights in on controversies

WATCH ABOVE: Election panel weights in on controversies

Looking even more closely at the ridings each leader has campaigned in, only Wynne and Ford have campaigned in ridings their party held what pollster Greg Lyle has called “blowout wins” in 2014 — wins by 20 points or more. Horwath campaigns in a riding Friday her party won by more than 20 points in 2014.

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For Wynne, those ridings are:

  • Ottawa-Vanier: Her first official rally of the campaign on May 9. The Ontario Liberals have held this riding since 1971 and won it in the 2014 general election by 23 points and held it in a 2016 by-election by 19 points.
  • University-Rosedale: A new-for-2018 riding, Wynne appeared there May 10. Liberals won this by 24 points in 2014.
  • Mississauga-Malton: A new-for-2018 riding, this riding is held federally by Liberal Navdeep Bains, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s political lieutenant for the GTA. The Ontario Liberals won this by 24 points over the second-place New Democrats in 2014 and yet, Wynne has already made three campaign stops here, on May 11, 13, and 16. Etobicoke-Lakeshore: Wynne dropped by a community living arts centre on May 12. She took this riding by 23 points in 2014.
  • Eglinton-Lawrence: Wynne attended a 10K run in this riding, which she won by 21 points in 2014, on May 13.
  • Guelph: Riding was held by retiring Liberal cabinet minister Liz Sandals and has been held by the Ontario Liberals since 2007. Wynne visited a microbrewery here on May 15. The Wynne Liberals won it by 21 points in 2014.
  • Spadina-Fort York: Wynne made a campaign announcement on May 18 in this new-for-2018 riding that she would have won in 2014 by 21 points.
Ford has campaigned in the following safe ridings:
  • Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke: This eastern rural riding was won by Tim Hudak’s PCs in 2014 by more than 50 points in 2014. Ford had his first rally of the campaign here on May 9.
  • Niagara West: Ford toured a manufacturing facility here on May 14. The riding was held by former PC leader Tim Hudak. It was a 22-point win for the Tories here in 2014 and, in a 2016 by-election in the old Niagara West-Glanbrook riding, incumbent PC Sam Oosterhof won by 30 points.
Horwath, to May 18, has made just two campaign stops in NDP territory, both blowout wins for her party in 2014:
  • Brampton East: This is the successor riding to the riding that current federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh ran in and won by 23 points in 2014. For this campaign, Singh’s brother Gurratan Singh is the candidate in 2018.
  • Kenora-Rainy River: The top half of this riding was sliced off to form the new riding of Kiiwetinoong, but mapping 2014’s results onto the new 2018 boundaries, the NDP still won by 21 points. But Horwath could be in trouble here. The NDP MPP incumbent retired and the PCs are running Greg Rickford, who won the riding twice as a Stephen Harper Conservative and served as one of Harper’s cabinet ministers. Horwath has two campaign stops in this sprawling on Friday.
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