As things now stand, the Ontario election is struggling to find a story line. So far, from the standpoint of the average voter, it’s hard to know what this campaign is about – which is not unusual in early days in modern election campaigns, but a bigger problem for challengers than incumbents.
Dalton McGuinty says he’s not perfect, things are better than you thought, and that he’s preoccupied with education and job creation. Tim Hudak says the Liberals are taxers and spenders, or more particularly gougers and wasters, and their time should be up.
Other polls are now picking up the trend line the poll Harri/Decima released last week revealed: The Progressive Conservatives’s are losing their advantage and the Liberals may be moving ahead. The reasons, in my estimation, have less to do with the campaign, and more to do with the context. The bottom line is that for the Conservatives, too few voters are angry with the provincial government, and those that are, split into two camps: one that wants a focus on smaller government, lower taxes and conservative social values; the other that wants better health care and education and more jobs.
For most of the last year, those who were upset and wanted change tended to coalesce around the PC brand, but now that the election is imminent, and the NDP a more credible brand (based in part on their rise to Official Opposition status in Ottawa), we’ve seen a bifurcation. This is bad for the Liberals in that it makes it harder to find a majority, but arguably worse for the Conservatives in that it makes it harder to win at all.
The skirmishing about the McGuinty initiative to create opportunities for recent immigrant workers wasn’t a great episode for the Liberals, but on balance was probably a bigger problem for the Conservatives. Their argument undoubtedly served to reinforce and energize their base, but their base isn’t big enough. More problematic, if, as appears to be the case so far, they failed to create and galvanize anger more broadly, then it was an off-road, time-wasting trip for the Hudak campaign – and they can’t afford many.
I would expect the economy will continue to hover as the big context setter for this campaign. Neither the New Democrats nor the Conservatives seem to have found a way to convince most voters that the economy is worse because of the Liberals or would be better under their stewardship. Last May, a similar dynamic returned the incumbents in Ottawa, and could easily do the same thing in Ontario next month.