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Ontario Progressive Conservative Party Leader Doug Ford, left to right, Ontario New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath, Ontario Liberal Party Leader Steven Del Duca and Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner pose for a photo ahead of the Ontario party leaders' debate, in Toronto, on May 16.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Doug Ford is the top choice in the Ontario election on pocketbook issues, according to a new poll that also shows a large majority of respondents are uncomfortable with building homes on farmland and green space as a way to bring down housing costs.

The poll, by Nanos Research for The Globe and Mail, was conducted amid a provincial election in which housing affordability, pandemic recovery and infrastructure have become key issues.

Mr. Ford, Leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, came out on top when people were asked who was most trusted to manage the postpandemic economy and make life more affordable. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath was chosen as most trusted to fix health care.

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca and Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner did not lead in any category.

But with election day fast approaching – the province goes to the polls June 2 – a substantial minority chose none of the leaders on each question about trust.

“There is not a lot of enthusiasm for any of the parties and the party leaders,” said Nik Nanos, chief data scientist at Nanos Research.

“I would say that it’s indicative of a growing anti-establishment sentiment in the populace, where they feel that the establishment, elected political officials, our democratic institutions have fundamentally failed.”

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There is also substantial public skepticism about carbon taxes, a policy tool Mr. Ford is alone among the leaders in opposing. Asked whether a carbon tax would encourage people to use less fuel, 56 per cent did not think it would be effective. This included majorities in the Greater Toronto Area and in the rest of the province, among both men and women.

Complicating the picture for Mr. Ford, though, is that the sort of highway expansions that have become the centerpiece of the Tory campaign are a top priority for few. Only 28 per cent said highway building was more important than transit, which was backed by 65 per cent of respondents.

While Mr. Ford can point to his government’s actions to build both highways and transit, it is the former that gets touted the most on the campaign trail.

Tory insiders say the highway plans are an effective wedge issue, particularly in the suburbs of Toronto, and that opponents of these projects wouldn’t vote for the party anyway, The Globe and Mail has reported. The Globe agreed not to the name the officials so they could discuss internal strategy candidly.

Another wrinkle for Mr. Ford is that his government’s attempt to push municipalities into expanding their boundaries, in the name of housing affordability, appears offside with public opinion. According to the Nanos poll, opposition to such building was strong among all age groups, both genders and almost equally present in the Greater Toronto Area and provincewide.

This sentiment was most widely felt among people 55 and older, a demographic that tends to vote.

“If you were just looking at this from a strictly politically mercenary perspective, you’d say, ‘I don’t think anybody should be talking about building new homes on farms and green spaces as a solution to lower the cost of housing,’” Mr. Nanos said.

There’s a growing recognition at some Ontario municipalities that this form of development is uneconomic and unsustainable. However, the other option is increased density and many cities, and their residents, are uncomfortable with that.

On the campaign trail, only the Green Party is firm about forcing municipalities to reform their zoning, allowing “gentle density” such as triplexes in residential neighbourhoods. Both the NDP and the Liberals lean in this direction but say they would work on the issue with municipalities – which have generally been resisting any such change.

Nanos polled 504 Ontario residents through a hybrid telephone and online random survey, on May 21 and 22. According to the pollster, the margin of error was plus or minus 4.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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