Ontario's Liberal government heads into the new legislative session with a comfortable lead over its rivals in public support, a new poll suggests.
The survey also suggests that the Grits' costly cancellations of two gas-fired power plants – an issue that the opposition parties have continually highlighted in the last year – does not matter much to most voters.
The poll, by Innovative Research Group, has Premier Kathleen Wynne's Grits at 37 per cent among decided voters, seven points ahead of the official opposition, Tim Hudak's Progressive Conservatives. The left-wing New Democrats under Andrea Horwath, meanwhile, trail at 22. The Green Party sits at 10 per cent support.
Even when undecided voters are factored in, the Liberals remain four points ahead, at 24 per cent, compared to 20 per cent for the Tories, 14 per cent for the NDP and 7 per cent for the Greens. Undecided voters count for 16 per cent of those surveyed.
Among the three party leaders, Ms. Wynne appears to have done the best job of holding on to her personal popularity. The survey found that 36 per cent of respondents held a favourable view of the Premier, the same as in June.
Ms. Horwath, meanwhile, fell sharply from 41 per cent to 34 per cent in the same period. Mr. Hudak was down four points to 30 per cent.
And despite the controversy around the power plants – which the Liberals cancelled ahead of the 2011 election, at an estimated cost of $585 million – 45 per cent of respondents said they were satisfied with the government's handling of the electricity file. That figure is actually up seven points from May 2011, before the power plant matter began to dog the Liberals.
The poll suggests that the issue simply is not registering with the electorate, Innovative Research's Greg Lyle told the Globe and Mail.
Polls between elections tend to be a referendum on the government, he said, and by that measure, Ms. Wynne is doing reasonably well. When the writ is dropped, some Liberal supporters who are on the fence would likely return to the party.
"Her numbers seem to be picking up, relatively speaking, and it's likely to get even better in an election campaign," he said.
The government's relative popularity was also influenced by the now-finished summer break, Mr. Lyle said, when the government continued to make news with various announcements, but the opposition lacked the forum of Question Period.
The survey was conducted by telephone, and polled 600 people between Aug. 21 and Aug. 27. Results are considered accurate plus or minus four percentage points, 19 times out of 20.