Political panel: The first 10 days of the Ontario election campaign

Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne, Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath take part in the Ontario Leaders debate in Toronto, May 7, 2018.
Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne, Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath take part in the Ontario Leaders debate in Toronto, May 7, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Each week until the election, Global News will present regular updates from our political panel, where Tom Parkin of the NDP, Deb Hutton of the Progressive Conservatives and Omar Khan of the Ontario Liberals will offer their analysis on the unfolding campaign. Today, Global News columnist Matt Gurney gets their sense of how the first 10 days of the campaign have gone … and what might be coming next. 

MORE: Ontario election coverage

GURNEY: Time flies when we’re having … whatever it is we’ve been having these not-quite two weeks. All three major leaders have had some good moments and all three probably wish they could get a do-over or two. The polls are generally pretty consistent: PCs with a steady lead but the NDP growing at the expense of the Liberals. There haven’t been a ton of surprises yet, but I think the last few days were certainly a bit more exciting, mainly with the PCs getting hammered with a barrage of bad news stories. But here’s my question for you fine people: a lot of the pundits out there have long said that people won’t pay attention until after the long weekend. Which is now. Has anything so far been a big enough deal to matter on election day?

READ MORE: Experts say outcome of Ontario election no longer ‘absolutely’ certain

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PARKIN: I don’t know what do-over Andrea Horwath would want. She is running a campaign on her terms and attacks from the PCs and Liberals on her costed plan have fallen flat. Horwath is mostly growing at the expense of the Liberals, but — and this is so important — Andrea is also growing at the expense of the PCs. The polls already show this, and I expect we’ll see more of that next week.

So before the long weekend, two really important dynamics were established: first, the PCs are in turmoil, already under police investigation — and now we have a second police probe into the 407 data theft. There were disturbing questions raised by a journalist last Thursday about identity theft in PC nominations in relation to the 407 data. People are piecing this together and more will come. Doug Ford put his head in the sand rather than cutting out the rot; he’ll have a hard time getting his message out and many more will question if his PCs are morally fit to govern. The bleeding from the PCs to Andrea Horwath will continue. Second, Liberals supporters must come to terms with the reality that their traditional party is in third. The decline is an irreversible process and the bleeding will continue. They know they need to support Horwath to avoid Ford’s cuts, privatizations and Rebel Media followers.

READ MORE: Who is Andrea Horwath? Ontario NDP leader campaigns on ‘change for the better’

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So next week, the parties of bad and worse will team up to fling every desperate and grasping attack they have in an attempt to maintain their rotten system. They will be a united front to stop change, stop Andrea Horwath and elect Doug Ford. And Andrea will continue to grow.

HUTTON: Doug Ford made a number of specific and significant announcements in week one that I think will matter to voters on election day. In particular, his gas tax cut will be very popular, especially in rural and northern Ontario. And his transit announcement on day one will be very appealing to voters in the GTA.

Ford’s numbers are not only holding steady but his support is far more committed than the other two parties. As the front-runner, Ford has been under attack from both of his opponents and the media yet continues to get his message out and draw significant crowds wherever he goes. A solid start for the PCs.

READ MORE: Who is Doug Ford? Ontario PC leader seeks to unseat Wynne and Liberals

KHAN: Phase one of the Liberal strategy was convincing Ontarians that Ford is too dangerous to elect. It’s working. Polls are consistent in showing Ontarians do not want Ford as premier. Ford himself has been giving people reason to doubt him. It’s not so much that the NDP have surged as Ford has given voters no reason to feel comfortable.

Liberals now must explain that while the NDP is beholden to rigid ideology of the 1970s, Liberals will use the best evidence available to solve problems. Look at the competing child-care plans: while the Liberal plan will save any family with a child in preschool $17,000 a year, the NDP plan will cause a wait list of 100,000 spaces because they won’t apply funding to private-sector childcare spaces. That’s why renowned childcare expert Gordon Cleveland called the NDP plan “completely unrealistic.”

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There are three things to look out for in the rest of the campaign: How does Ford handle any controversies to come? What do the NDP do to consolidate their position rather than see voters think twice and fade? What can Liberals do to take advantage of this turmoil to show we’re the safest, best option for those opposed to Ford? Innovative Research Group shows a close three-way race.  So we have a window from now to the leaders debate. It will be everyone’s best second-last chance to position themselves.

Watch: who will decide the election outcome? One pollster’s opinion

Click to play video: 'Pollster Darrell Bricker on the one group who may decide Ontario election' Pollster Darrell Bricker on the one group who may decide Ontario election
Pollster Darrell Bricker on the one group who may decide Ontario election – May 8, 2018

GURNEY: I think the problem the Liberals have, though, is that it’s not the easiest thing to claim that you’re all about evidence-based solutions to the problems that you own after 15 years in government. And as for NDP controversies, Tom, I agree Horwath herself has been solid — she always is — but some of the candidates are proving problematic. Sept. 11 conspiracy theories? Slashing teacher pay?  Calling wearing a poppy “collective brainwashing” and “an annual ritual of war glorification”? Yikes. (Mind you, the Liberals have a 9/11 truther, too.)

I’ll just say, purely anecdotally, that a lot of the people I’m talking to are either already decided or not yet paying attention at all. Of those already decided, most are firmly in the Progressive Conservative camp, but if I’m a PC, my concern is still that Ford is a leader whose maximum possible vote share is almost exactly the same as what the party needs to win. If the PC support holds, they’ll probably be the next government. But if they lose even a few points as people start paying more attention, I don’t know where they make it up.

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PARKIN: Matt, point taken on the couple problem candidates. But the scandal now enveloping Doug Ford is of an entirely different magnitude. In the time we’ve been discussing this, I understand there is now a third police probe, this one on a Brampton Centre candidate for nomination.

Let me respond to a couple shots from Omar and Deb. Omar repeats Kathleen Wynne’s claim that Liberals and New Democrats share values. Nope, we don’t. Not at all. Zero. I don’t share the Liberals’ cynical view of politics. I don’t share their values of cutting people’s health care to pay for corporate tax cuts. I don’t share values of lying about Hydro One privatization. New Democrats emphatically reject cynical political values — that’s why we joined the NDP, that’s our guts!

READ MORE: Who is Kathleen Wynne? Liberal leader offers consistency over change as she seeks re-election

Now, Deb says Doug Ford has some “specific and significant announcements,” which sounds good — until you get to the granular. Ford pledged a $2 billion per year income tax cut, $1 billion of which is shared between the 10 per cent already earning the most. It’s reverse Robin Hood. He would give over $1,100 to each person earning over $109,000 and just $18 to someone earning $39,000. He calls it a middle-class tax cut, but hard-working people will call it an insult. Then he pledged a $1.2 billion tax cut to the revenues for fix roads and support transit — much of going to municipalities. His campaign cynically doesn’t think it needs to explain any of this to us.

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To your final point, Matt: this is turning into a choice between Ford and Horwath. According to Ipsos, 47 per cent of Ontarians want Horwath as premier. One-in-ten PC voters don’t want Ford — and though the data does not give the cross-tabs, I’ll bet that 1-in-10 crowd wants Horwath, too. With the Liberal threat gone, that one-in-10 are free. Andrea is the centre of Ontario politics right now — and all the desperate and grasping attacks from bad and worse cannot stop her because her message is so fundamentally correct.

HUTTON: When did spending billions and billions of dollars on significantly expanded social programs become the centre of Ontario politics? Both Wynne and Horwath are choosing to occupy the far left of the spectrum in this election. Their answer to every question is to simply spend more: so for those seven in 10 voters who are expressing concern about Ontario’s deficit and debt, there is only one choice and that’s Doug Ford.

Tom, only a New Democrat would call a tax cut an insult! In contrast, Horwath’s tax hike is punitive and counterproductive.

I think the next week will look quite different for Andrea Horwath. She has so far escaped much scrutiny, but as the Liberals’ fortunes plummet, they will no doubt turn their attacks on the NDP. And despite having fought two previous elections, her third-place standing in those contests means she’s never really been tested. That’s about to change.

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KHAN: Looks like Tom and Deb are counting votes before any have been cast. There is a lot of game left and there are indications of a solidifying of Liberal support.

We Liberals need to continue pushing a clear message: our professional handling of the economy has put us in a position where we’re able to invest in a care agenda to ensure everyone benefits from economic growth. Ontario has led the developed world in economic growth for almost four years, has generated a million new jobs and hasn’t had an unemployment rate this low in 20 years. This means we can invest in our priorities. The Conservatives offer massive cuts that economists say will lead to between 40,000 and 70,000 job losses. Ontarians don’t want to return to the era of cuts and chaos we saw under Mike Harris.

The NDP are not ready for prime time. Their tax increases on businesses and individuals will drive out investment and drive up unemployment. Their platform contains a massive costing error and, as a result, they have defunded billions of dollars that flowed to valued programs. It’s a failure of basic competence that leads to real consequences and renders their entire platform incoherent and unrealistic. Even Kevin Page, the former parliamentary budget officer, has called it a “mistake.” How can Ontarians trust them to run an $800-billion economy?

Liberals need to keep making the case that we are the responsible alternative to Doug Ford. Our policies will continue to make Ontario a top destination for foreign investors like Google, so we will have the resources to keep investing in programs like expanded childcare and pharmacare that make a real difference in the lives of Ontario families.

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GURNEY: I had heard whispers of improving fortunes for the Liberals, as well. That might sound like good news for Omar, but I was hearing those whispers from PCs who were delighted to see Liberal resistance to the NDP firming up — a total Liberal collapse in favour of the NDP isn’t something the PCs want to see. We should all get back to our long weekends, but let’s go around one last time for a final brief thought before it’s party time again.

KHAN: My message to Ontario Liberals is what the most successful Ontario Liberal premier in modern times, Dalton McGuinty, used to say, “Never too high, never too low. Just relentless.”

PARKIN: Deb, Andrea’s plan for a two-point increase on income over $300,000 is fair. And Omar, PCs and Liberals may be whispering about a Liberal revival, but polls point down, down, down — this is a Horwath vs. Ford showdown.

HUTTON: I can’t disagree with Tom on his conclusion! Two clear choices: more spending and more taxing vs. job-creating tax cuts and more money in your pocket.

Matt Gurney is host of The Exchange with Matt Gurney on Global News Radio 640 Toronto and a columnist for Global News. Tom Parkin is a former NDP advisor and a political commentator with a social democratic point of view. Deb Hutton was a senior advisor to former Ontario premier Mike Harris. Omar Khan spent over a decade working for several Liberal cabinet ministers at Queen’s Park and is a vice-president of the Ontario Liberal Party. 

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