The most baffling miscalculations made by each of Ontario’s parties

Political parties invest great amounts of time and energy into preparing for election campaigns – far more, generally, than the media covering them. For all that we’re constantly questioning their strategic decisions, an awful lot of thought and research goes into most of them, and even if they don’t pan out there’s usually a good explanation behind them.

Still, this election has contained its share of mysteries when it comes to what the parties were thinking. Here’s a quick look at what was, to these eyes, the most baffling miscalculation by each party.

The Liberals’ debate prep

Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne takes part in the Ontario provincial leaders debate in Toronto, Tuesday June 3, 2014. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne takes part in the Ontario provincial leaders debate in Toronto, Tuesday June 3, 2014. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

Yes, it was bad luck for Kathleen Wynne that the very first topic in her first leaders’ debate – before she’d had a chance to let her nerves settle – was the gas-plants scandal. But that still doesn’t explain why she didn’t have a better plan for the inevitable questions on that subject than to repeatedly apologize while uncomfortably staring straight ahead as the other leaders berated her, then make an awkward and unsuccessful attempt to change the channel to Tim Hudak’s math problems.

Ms. Wynne was being prepped for the debate dating back to last year, so it’s not as though no thought went into this. One theory offered by some Liberal insiders is that, somewhat in keeping with the way their party has made both political and policy decisions since Ms. Wynne took over, there were a lot of people in the room during those sessions – and enough conflicting advice that she didn’t have a clear idea of what she was supposed to do.

Another explanation also floating around is that while they expected Mr. Hudak to be tough on her, the Liberals failed to adjust to the aggressive persona Andrea Horwath had taken on by the time the debate happened. Instead, by this account, Ms. Wynne was prepared for the folksier version of the NDP Leader from the 2011 campaign, and left flummoxed by the attack from both sides.

Or maybe the prep just didn’t take as it should have, with Ms. Wynne’s nervousness getting the better of her. Whatever happened, if the Liberals lose on Thursday, they’ll have cause to look back on the debate with some regret.

The Tories’ hard sell of 100,000 job cuts

Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak shares a laugh with workers at Automatic Coating Limited in Toronto on Tuesday, May 6, 2014.  (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak shares a laugh with workers at Automatic Coating Limited in Toronto on Tuesday, May 6, 2014. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

The more obvious choice for a Progressive Conservative mystery in this campaign might be how Mr. Hudak’s policy advisers managed to badly botch the math behind his pledge to create a million new jobs, causing him no shortage of embarrassment. Chalk that one up to sloppiness, albeit of the fairly remarkable variety. What’s even more confusing is how the Tories rolled out their plan to cut 100,000 jobs from the broader public sector.

When they announced that pledge, a few days in, it seemed obviously intended as something to seize the electorate’s attention and become the talk of the campaign. If it wasn’t, then surely Mr. Hudak would have soft-sold it as relying largely on attrition rather than giving the impression that it involved firing a lot of people.

But by the accounts of many within their party, the Tories were genuinely caught off guard by how much the proposed cuts overshadowed other policies they rolled out in the days that followed, and the extent to which it gave their opponents something to rally against. So in subsequent the weeks, Mr. Hudak did start talking more about attrition – but only after the other parties had reasonably been able to characterize his proposal as mass layoffs.

Prior to the debate, several PC sources have said, there was starting to be a degree of finger-pointing within their party about both the million-jobs math and the jobs-cuts roll-out. A better mood set in because of the perceived momentum swing in their favour, which seemingly had much to do with the focus shifting to Liberal scandals. But there will again be plenty of second-guessing if the motivated centre-left keeps them from office.

The NDP’s slow start

Andrea Horwath speaks at a campaign stop in Toronto on May 7. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Andrea Horwath speaks at a campaign stop in Toronto on May 7. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Frankly, almost the entire NDP campaign has been baffling. While there have been occasional signs of what could have worked – Ms. Horwath is a more confident performer than she was in 2011, and when anyone has actually seen them their ads have been pretty good – it remains unclear why the New Democrats forced an election for which they lacked both a policy agenda and enough money to compete with the other parties.

What is especially confusing, though, is why Ms. Horwath was so unprepared for the campaign’s first week. In the run-up to the May 2 provincial budget, neither of the other parties could be certain how the New Democrats would respond. But in retrospect, considering that their rejection of that left-leaning budget clearly had little to do with its contents, the New Democrats should have known well before it was presented what they were going to do. And if they had bluffed publicly about weighing their options while making preparations behind the scenes, they might have run the smoothest campaign out of the gate.

Instead, the New Democrats looked more surprised than anyone by the government falling. It took them the longest to get their logistics sorted out, and more important they lacked a compelling explanation for why they had decided to bring the Liberals down. This was probably the time to make the strongest possible argument about Liberal corruption, as Ms. Horwath tried to do much later; instead she stumbled through a less-than-compelling case about liking Ms. Wynne’s promises but not trusting her to deliver on them.

As a result, Ms. Horwath squandered the spotlight that was on her in those first days. Before long, with the other leaders campaigning more strongly, the narrative of a two-way race had taken hold – one the New Democrats were never able to shake in the weeks that followed.

Ask The Globe: Is Harper correct in his assessment that “most” cases of murdered indigenous women are “solved”?

For the duration of the election, The Globe is answering your questions – from fact-checking leaders’ statements to digging deep into policies and promises. Have a question? Tweet it with #AskTheGlobe

JJ June poised this question: Fact Check “Harper says ‘most’ cases of murdered aboriginal women are solved.” CP Oct. 6/15

Kathryn Blaze Baum, a national reporter who covers the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women for The Globe gave this response:

First, it is important to note that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s comment was made in the context of an inquiry into both missing and murdered indigenous women. Indigenous leaders and Canada’s premiers have been calling for a federal probe to better understand why aboriginal women are disproportionately more likely to disappear or be killed and also to determine how to tackle the violence.

In 2014, the RCMP released an unprecedented report looking at police-recorded incidents of missing and murdered indigenous women across the country. It found that between 1980 and 2012, there were 1,017 homicides and 164 outstanding missing-person cases. Within that time period, there are 225 unsolved cases: 105 women have been missing for more than 30 days and their disappearances are categorized as either “foul play suspected” or “unknown,” and 120 homicide cases have not been solved.

It is true, then, that most homicides involving indigenous women have been solved. As stated in the RCMP report: “The majority of all female homicides are solved (close to 90%) and there is little difference in solve rates between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal victims.”

But this is not the whole picture.

It is important to understand what the RCMP means when it says “solved.” The report indicates that, for the purposes of the study, the term is used synonymously with “clearance rate.” Here is how clearance rate is defined, in one of the footnotes:

“Clearance refers to whether or not a homicide incident was cleared:  (1) either by the laying, or recommending of a charge to the Crown; or (2) where at least one suspect has been identified and against whom there is sufficient evidence to lay a charge, but where the incident is cleared otherwise (e.g. the suicide or death of the chargeable suspect … ).”

This means that if police recommend charges but the Crown decides not to proceed, or if an accused is charged but later acquitted, the case is still considered solved. A killing, then, could be deemed solved without a conviction.

Put simply, the police might consider a case cleared, but the victim’s family may still be waiting for justice.

Furthermore, it is possible that some of the 105 unresolved cases involving missing indigenous women, whose disappearances are categorized as “foul play suspected” or “unknown,” are actually unsolved homicide cases.

Finally, a couple of questions on the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal.

First Cdn Politico asks: Yes. Wasn’t Tom Mulcair in favour of TPP as recently as 2 months ago?

One of our Ottawa corespondents, John Ibbitson, answers this question.

The NDP has traditionally opposed free trade agreements, saying that they lead to lower labour and environmental standards, job losses and foreign interference/loss of sovereignty.

Under Thomas Mulcair the party has modified its stance, supporting the free trade agreement with South Korea and supporting in principle the free trade agreement with Europe, although it is withholding full approval until it sees the final, legally-vetted document. The party had no stated position on the Trans Pacific Partnership other than it supports free and fair trade.

However, Mr. Mulcair has decided that this agreement would lead to lost jobs — especially in the auto sector — more costly prescription drugs, and the erosion of the supply management system that protects the dairy and poultry industry. The NDP opposes the TPP.

Finally joey wonders: if  The NDP have said they won’t necessarily uphold an agreement PCs may reach in TPP. Have the liberals commented their stance?

The Liberal Party fought the free trade agreement between Canada and the United States, and only reluctantly endorsed the North American Free Trade Agreement the included Mexico, negotiated by the Mulroney government. However, the Chretien government did conclude a couple of small free-trade agreements, and Justin Trudeau has been supportive of the Harper government’s trade agenda, endorsing the agreement with the European Union. The Liberal Party, however, declines to take a position on the TPP until the full text of the agreement is revealed.

(Want to know more about the TPP? Our explainer can be found here.)

Ask The Globe: Answers to your questions on marijuana, the census and Liberal sponsorship scandal

For the duration of the election, The Globe is answering your questions – from fact-checking leaders’ statements to digging deep into policies and promises. Have a question? Tweet it with #AskTheGlobe

Spencer Smit asks: @globeandmail Harper saying cannabis is worse than tobacco, citing “evidence” please advise #AskTheGlobe

Mike Hager, a Globe reporter in Vancouver, recently looked into this:

The Canadian Cancer Society says smoking tobacco continues to be the leading preventable cause of premature deaths in the country, claiming about 37,000 lives each year. The non-profit organization says tobacco is the main risk factor for cancer, heart disease, stroke and lung disease in Canada.

In contrast, no deaths have been directly attributed to cannabis use or overdose, says Dr. Tim Stockwell, director of the University of Victoria’s Centre for Addictions Research. But it is likely a factor in “a few” fatal crashes and “a few” lung-cancer deaths each year, he said.

Elizabeth Jane Banks asks: #AskTheGlobe Please fact check Elizabeth May’s claim that almost no one completes the voluntary census. #cdnpoli #elxn42

“Almost no one” may be a bit strong, but experts have warned about the quality of the National Household Survey data after it was made voluntary in 2011. Previously the longform census, which asks for more detailed information and is sent to a fraction of households, was mandatory. The response rates for the voluntary form were about 70 per cent in 2011, whereas the response rate for the mandatory form in 2006 was 93.5 per cent.

Alex Dempster asks: @globeandmail Harper said of the Liberal sponsorship scandal that $40 million of Canadians taxpayers’ money lost. Accurate? #AskTheGlobe

Maybe? This one’s a bit tricky, and may be a case of fuzzy math in campaign slogans. But it may originate in the $40-million of government funds for contracts to a firm where there was no evidence of work done, etc.

(The Globe and Mail, incidentally, won the prestigious Michener Award for public service in journalism for its uncovering of the scandal.)

Ask The Globe: Your questions on citizenship, C-51 and refugees

For the duration of the election, The Globe is answering your questions – from fact-checking leaders’ statements to digging deep into policies and promises. Have a question? Tweet it with #AskTheGlobe

Ben asks: #AskTheGlobe Can the government legally revoke someones Canadian citizenship? #MunkDebate

and Sarah asks: What conditions can a Canadian loose their citizenship, residency, or voting rights? Do refugees hafta pay interest? #AskTheGlobe

Let’s deal with these two together.

First, yes, the government can legally revoke citizenship if it was obtained fraudulently. The Conservatives also added another policy, which is that dual nationals can potentially lose their citizenship if convicted of terrorism or treason crimes. Depending on the circumstances, someone whose citizenship was revoked may be removed from the country.

On voting, the Conservatives did change the eligibility to vote for Canadian expats living abroad. Generally they lose their right to vote after five years, which Donald Sutherland was not very happy about.

Chris asks: Did Tom Mulcair really say different things about repealing C51? #AskTheGlobe

The NDP has never supported Bill C-51, the Anti-Terror Act. The New Democrats voted against the bill, which was supported by the Conservatives and Liberals. However, in interviews earlier in the year, leader Thomas Mulcair did change his tone. In February, Mr. Mulcair said he wouldn’t commit to repealing the bill if elected, though his party would definitely change it. Weeks later, in March, Mr. Mulcair committed to repealing the entire law.

Myles asks: Harper says ours response has been generous- is that true compared to past refugee crises? #MunkDebate #asktheglobe #futurevoter

It depends on what past refugee crises we’re comparing it to. In terms of numbers and speed of access for refugees, it’s much lower than Vietnam (when Joe Clark raised the target to 60,000 refugees). Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau at the Munk Debate brought up comparisons with Vietnam to accuse Harper of being stingy. What sets Syria apart from Vietnam is the rules Stephen Harper introduced about refugees needing their status approved by UNHCR or a third country, a rule that didn’t exist for the Vietnamese (and which the Kurdi family blames for the events leading to Alan’s death off the Turkish coast). If we’re comparing Syria with the Second World War, though – when we famously turned away a boatload of Jewish refugees in 1939, and were pretty hostile to Jewish refugees even during the war – our current response looks more generous. (Doug Saunders and Sean Fine have done really good historical analyses of Vietnam, the Second World War and our response to the Hungarian refugee crisis in the 1950s).

Ask The Globe: What happens if two parties tie for the most seats?

For the duration of the election, The Globe is answering your questions – from fact-checking leaders’ statements to digging deep into policies and promises. Have a question? Tweet it with #AskTheGlobe

Christopher Stasiuk asks: If two parties tie for first with the most seats in the federal election, who governs? Who is the PM? #asktheglobe

According to Wednesday’s Nanos numbers the Liberals and Conservatives are locked in a dead heat atop the polls. Which makes Christopher’s question a timely one.

Digital politics editor Chris Hannay explains the process.

The incumbent always gets first crack at forming government. (Usually, if the incumbent has not won the most seats after an election, they decline.) If the incumbent is one of the tied parties and they have a Speech from the Throne, and it gets defeated by the other parties, they have to go to Governor-General David Johnston and declare that they don’t have the confidence of the House.

The Governor-General can then decide whether to call an election or let another party have a chance at governing.

If an election has just happened, typically the Governor-General is expected to let another party have a chance to form the government so as not to waste voters’ times. (This happened in 1926)

If the second-place party, or the other party that was tied, can survive a confidence vote with other parties’ support, then they’re in government now.

This is essentially what happened in Ontario in 1985.