Ontario's Progressive Conservatives have pulled even with the governing Liberals, setting up a tight battle for government in an election that could come as soon as June, a new poll suggests.
The New Democrats, meanwhile, sit firmly in third place.
The new numbers from Nanos Research put Premier Kathleen Wynne's party at 36 per cent, unchanged from January. Tim Hudak's PCs are up five points to 33 while Andrea Horwath's NDP are statistically unchanged – down two to 25.
The results are certain to cheer Mr. Hudak, who has struggled to put his party over the top, despite a series of Liberal spending scandals in the latter part of former Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty's rule.
Recently, the Tory leader has cleared some major problems off his plate. First, controversial Toronto city councillor Doug Ford declared he would not run for the party. Then, Mr. Hudak abandoned so-called "right to work" policy, a contentious issue that had caused divisions within the party. Both the Liberals and NDP had effectively attacked U.S.-style right to work as "Alabama-style" labour laws.
"The gap is tightening," Nanos Research chairman Nik Nanos said in an interview. "The survey was done largely after the adjustment in the policy position of Tim Hudak on the right-to-work issue, so that probably had a positive spillover for him."
The news isn't all bad for Ms. Wynne, however. The poll found her party has a clear lead in vote consideration, with 55 per cent of respondents saying they would consider voting for the Grits. Mr. Hudak and Ms. Horwath are effectively tied, at 47 and 46 per cent respectively.
This means the Liberals have the most room to grow with an effective campaign.
"The key takeaway is that there is fluidity in the electorate," Mr. Nanos said. "The race is tightening up, but the Liberals have the greatest upside at this particular point in time."
If an election were held today, he said, it would likely yield a similar result to the current hung legislature, in which the Liberals rule with a minority.
While Mr. Hudak is eager for an election, Ms. Wynne's Liberals have become increasingly cool to one in recent months, while the NDP is on the fence.
The survey found that health care remains the top issue for voters. But jobs and the economy is not far behind, at 14 per cent. High taxes, meanwhile, is at 7.
These results show the parties need to present well-rounded pitches to the electorate that show they have plans for both social and fiscal matters, Mr. Nanos said.
The telephone survey of 500 Ontarians, from Feb. 28 to March 3, has a margin of error plus or minus 4.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. This puts Ms. Wynne and Mr. Hudak in a statistical tie.