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Ontario Premier Doug Ford makes a campaign stop at the Finishing Trades Institute of Ontario, in North York, on May 17.Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press

Large majorities of Ontarians are dissatisfied with their province’s hospitals, its long-term care homes and its politicians’ ideas for making life more affordable, a new poll reveals – even as Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives appear to be holding their lead ahead of the June 2 election.

The survey, conducted by Nanos Research for The Globe and Mail, shows that nearly eight in 10 Ontarians say they are either dissatisfied or somewhat dissatisfied with “the quality of long-term care available to seniors.” And almost three in four Ontarians say they are dissatisfied or somewhat dissatisfied with the capacity of the province’s hospitals “to deliver quality health care in a timely fashion.”

Ontario’s hospitals, with fewer beds per capita than in many other jurisdictions in the country and the world, were pushed to the brink by COVID-19, with surgeries cancelled and already long waiting lists made longer. More than 4,500 of Ontario’s roughly 13,000 COVID-19 deaths have been in long-term care. The military, called into help, found widespread neglect and dehydration in the hardest-hit nursing homes.

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The PC government spent months before the election campaign highlighting its long-term plans to spend billions expanding hospitals across the province and its vow to build 30,000 new long-term care beds. The NDP, Liberals and Greens have all vowed to spend more on health care and end for-profit long-term care, where death rates were worse than in not-for-profit homes.

The survey also revealed high levels of dissatisfaction on other issues, including housing affordability and inflation. About seven in 10 say they are dissatisfied or somewhat dissatisfied with “ideas from politicians in Ontario” on making “housing more affordable.” A similar number are dissatisfied or somewhat dissatisfied with politicians’ ideas for helping people “manage with the rising cost of basics such as food and groceries.”

Almost eight in 10 favour or somewhat favour programs that “support home ownership,” while a similar number would back “investing more in low-income housing.”

Nik Nanos, chief data scientist of Nanos Research, says the fact that Mr. Ford leads in polling even with the high levels of dissatisfaction on key issues suggests voters are not convinced the opposition parties would do any better. But Mr. Nanos adds that the data also suggest that the PC government has major weaknesses that could be exploited as the campaign’s end nears.

“What it speaks to is there is a significant level of discontent with basically all of the provincial parties,” Mr. Nanos said. “And perhaps the good news for Doug Ford is that he is not being compared to perfection, he is being compared to the other provincial party leaders.”

Mr. Nanos said for many Ontarians, Mr. Ford exceeded low expectations for his performance during the pandemic. Some feared he would be more reluctant to public-health restrictions, like other conservative politicians.

The Ontario PCs are running a cautious, front-runner-style campaign that Mr. Nanos describes as “low-key” and “risk averse.”

But neither Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca nor NDP Leader Andrea Horwath appear to have generated much enthusiasm among voters, Mr. Nanos said. However, if Mr. Ford were to stumble on health care or long-term care or another key issue that voters are concerned about, the pollster added, the landscape could shift quickly.

“If you’re an opposition strategist, what you need is for Ford to make a mistake on one of these issues,” Mr. Nanos said.

The Ontario polling for The Globe also shows a massive majority in favour of pay increases “for frontline health care workers like nurses,” with 64 per cent saying they support the idea and 25 per cent saying they “somewhat support” it.

While the PC government offered pandemic pay boosts to both nurses and personal support workers, it has not rescinded its 1-per-cent wage-hike ceiling for public-sector workers as health care unions have demanded. All three main opposition leaders, including the Greens’ Mike Schreiner, have vowed to scrap this cap.

A wide gender divide shows up on some of these questions. On the pay-for-nurses question and on the question about long-term care, men were less likely to feel as strongly as women. Only 54 per cent of men said they support extra pay for frontline health care workers, compared with 74 per cent for women. On long-term care, 42 per cent of men were dissatisfied, compared with 61 per cent of women.

The survey also says that 92 per cent of Ontarians support or somewhat support “investing in creating more beds in Ontario hospitals.”

Nanos randomly dialled 515 adult Ontario residents, using land and cell lines, recruiting them to participate in an online survey between May 16 and 17. The margin of error for a random survey with a sample size of 515 is plus or minus 4.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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