While Ontario’s election campaign is slated to officially launch this week, the three major political parties have already hit the ground running in the race to form the next government on June 2.
Government announcements and platform commitments have ramped up over the past several weeks as the parties begin to pitch themselves to Ontarians. The leaders of the Progressive Conservatives, Liberals and NDP all held events over the weekend to kick off their campaigns ahead of Wednesday, when Lieutenant-Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell will sign and issue the writs of election for all 124 ridings.
The current PC government adjourned the Ontario Legislature last Thursday immediately after tabling a budget, effectively ending the session.
The budget, promising $158.8-billion in infrastructure funding over the next 10 years, including to build new highways and health care facilities, will serve as a pillar of the PC election platform and be reintroduced if the party were to again form government.
On Saturday, Premier Doug Ford unveiled the “Yes Express” tour bus at his campaign headquarters in Etobicoke. Positioning the PCs as the “party saying yes,” Mr. Ford said he will be travelling across the province in the aptly named bus to hear from residents and share details of the PC plan for the next four years if re-elected.
The platform budget, dubbed “Ontario’s Plan to Build,” projects a $19.9-billion deficit in 2022-23 – an increase of $6.4-billion from the previous fiscal year – with plans to balance by 2027-28.
“This is a budget for the people,” Mr. Ford said, pointing to infrastructure investments that are also poised to create construction jobs in the province.
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca, meanwhile, launched his campaign Saturday as he accepted the party nomination in the riding of Vaughan-Woodbridge. Mr. Del Duca lost the riding in 2018 to PC incumbent Michael Tibollo, who is running to keep the seat.
Flanked by supporters with banners touting “A Place To Grow,” Mr. Del Duca used the day’s warm spring weather conditions to symbolize a change he’d like to see in government come June.
“Spring is here, not just today in Vaughan-Woodbridge, but spring is coming for this province of ours on June 2,” he said to a crowd of supporters.
Mr. Del Duca won the party leadership in March, 2020, and took the reins from former premier Kathleen Wynne, who is not running for re-election.
The party has already released major platform planks, including a plan to ban handguns within a year of taking office, but has yet to release a fully costed platform, which Mr. Del Duca said is in progress.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath kicked off her fourth election campaign at a rally in her hometown of Hamilton on Saturday, pitching to voters who want change that her party is in the best position to tackle the PCs. The party was elected in 40 ridings in 2018, while the governing Liberals were decimated to just seven and lost official party status.
“This time, things are very different. Voting NDP is your best shot to defeat Doug Ford,” Ms. Horwath said.
The NDP is the first party to release a full platform but doesn’t include costing or funding sources, which Ms. Horwath said was a result of the delayed budget and pledged more details will be released soon.
NDP strategists say they are going into the race brimming with confidence, despite recent polls putting the party in third place. Campaign director Michael Balagus told reporters at the party’s headquarters in Etobicoke last week that the NDP’s fundraising success over the past four years as the Official Opposition means it will be able to spend more money than prior elections.
The party plans to spend the maximum $8.9-million in election expenses with a total budget, including fundraising and other costs not limited to election rules, around $13-million.
The NDP’s plan for Ms. Horwath’s campaign bus will be to target seats the party does not already hold, rather than focusing on shoring up existing support in ridings currently held. With the party so much better resourced than it was in 2018, the NDP will be able to send field teams of campaign workers across the province to key ridings – which Mr. Balagus said could make the difference in what he expects will be a close election.
Liberal campaign manager Christine McMillan acknowledges she faces an uphill battle, as the party had to rebuild after nearly getting wiped out in 2018. But that opportunity has allowed the Liberals, with just five sitting incumbents running for re-election, to attract a large slate of new candidates – 60 per cent of whom are women. Many are local community leaders who are new to politics and include doctors and a hospital chief executive.
“We were able to actually go out and build the team that we wanted,” Ms. McMillan said. “And what was really important to Steven was obviously a diverse team, but also gender parity.”
The Liberals had a target of nominating at least 50-per-cent women candidates and 30 candidates under the age of 30.
While the party raised enough money to pay off the $10-million debt it faced after the 2018 defeat, it has since found fundraising a challenge as the third party. Ms. McMillan said her party expects to be outspent in the campaign but she said she believes the race will still come down to a choice between her party and Mr. Ford’s – once voters start paying attention and the election campaign shifts into gear.
The first leaders debate is scheduled for May 10 in North Bay and will focus on Northern Ontario issues.
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