It may be complicating his search for campaign photo-ops, but Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak can be expected to keep railing against “corporate welfare” – government support for individual companies – which he argues is an ineffective way of picking winners and losers.
Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne, meanwhile, can be expected to keep defending such expenditures as well-targeted efforts to attract companies to Ontario, or encourage businesses to expand their operations.
It stands to be one of the more interesting debates during this campaign, because both leaders seem to be fired up for it and there are decent arguments to be made on either side.
But where does the electorate come down on it?
A poll taken in March by Innovative Research Group offers a bit of insight. It asked a weighted sample of 1,000 Ontarians: “Thinking about the role of the provincial government when it comes to the economy, which statement is closest to your point of view?”
Of the two options they were given, 48 per cent agreed that “Government needs to be an active partner to help Ontario businesses compete in the world with incentives to create research and development, training programs and other initiatives to support high-potential industries.” Only 36 per cent, meanwhile, went with “Government helps business the best by reducing taxes and red tape and staying out of the way, not by trying to pick winners with taxpayer money.” (16 per cent didn’t know.)
Those numbers would seem to augur well for Ms. Wynne’s Liberals. But more interesting, as it pertains to the dynamics of this campaign, is when the poll is broken down by party, including core supporters of each one and swing voters:
Role of government in the Ontario economy
1,000 Ontarians were asked whether they supported government as an active partner in helping businesses compete.
SOURCE: Innovative Research Group
Now, it needs to be said that the samples get fairly small for each group, so there’s a decent margin for error. But it’s fairly telling among all the groups, including Liberal-PC swing voters, the only one that comes down against subsidies is “core Tories” – and that it does so by a very strong margin.
The poll, in other words, would suggest Mr. Hudak’s position on this issue plays very well with his base, and not especially well with anyone else. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it’s another indication that more so than the other parties, the Tories’ campaign is about motivation rather than persuasion.