Nearly two weeks into Ontario’s provincial election campaign, the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives agree on one thing: everything is going perfectly.
Tory Leader Tim Hudak’s controversial agenda – cutting 100,000 public sector jobs, slashing corporate taxes and axing tax breaks that help university students, senior citizens and others – is utterly dominating the campaign narrative. The PC plan is to show their leader as someone of substance, unafraid to do difficult things to shock the province’s sluggish economy. And, with the exception of a couple of photo-ops gone awry, that plan seems to be working.
An Ipsos Reid-CTV poll released yesterday suggests one reason for the Tories’ rationale. Of the three major parties, the poll found, Tory supporters were the most committed to the party. Mr. Hudak’s game plan, clearly, is to motivate those people to get to the polls.
A secondary rationale is that some voters will be persuaded his economic medicine is so bitter, he would never propose it unless he were certain it will work.
The PCs’ air war strategy – of setting the agenda every day and forcing everyone else to respond – echoes the one Prime Minister Stephen Harper successfully used in the 2005-2006 campaign. In that race, he floored the gas pedal while the Liberals were still revving up, and ultimately became the focus of the campaign.
But if the Tories are pleased at being in the centre of the fight, Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals are positively giddy.
In a closed-door briefing to party rank and file in March, campaign co-chair David Herle laid out exactly this scenario as the one the party wants: a ballot question polarized around Mr. Hudak’s agenda, with a marginalized NDP. The Grits effectively hope that moderate and leftwing voters, terrified of the Tories’ cutting plans, will flock to Ms. Wynne.
And right now, Liberal insiders believe Mr. Hudak is doing their work for them and then some by proposing even greater cuts than they expected.
Needless to say, it’s still early days. The advertising blackout lifts next week, giving the Tories and NDP a forum to hammer the Liberals on their spending scandals and Ms. Wynne the chance to push back with more pointed attacks on Mr. Hudak’s agenda. Whether the vote ultimately becomes a referendum on Tory policies or Liberal scandals is anyone’s guess.
The NDP, meanwhile, is still a wildcard. If they can wake up their soporific campaign, it would spell disaster for Ms. Wynne by pulling away erstwhile Liberal supporters.
But for now, the Ontario election is a clean left-versus-right battle. And both sides want it that way.