Welcome to Earnscliffe Strategies’ Election Insights. This is our weekly analysis of the 2022 Ontario election, summarizing the key issues, strategies motivating the parties and major developments from the campaign trail.
Campaigning in the shadow of COVID
The election campaign officially enters the final phase today, as advance voting locations open across Ontario for voters to cast their ballots.
It has been busy week for all of the leaders, beginning with Monday’s in-person debate in Toronto and followed by long hours on the campaign busses crisscrossing the province. Though, on Wednesday, a significant bump in the road appeared as Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner announced he had tested positive for COVID-19 at some point after the debate. Early Thursday morning, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and her team announced she had also tested positive for COVID-19 and would need to cancel her scheduled appearances in North Bay and Sault Ste. Marie. Both leaders are fully vaccinated and reportedly doing well but remaining in isolation until their symptoms and tests begin to clear.
As of this time, both PC Leader Doug Ford and Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca have said they have tested negative for COVID, after the revelations of their colleagues’ infections, and will continue to campaign while taking appropriate caution.
Monday’s debate drew a lot of attention as the final chance to see each leader respond directly to each other and field questions on policy. While Doug Ford was granted permission to use notes, over the objections of the other leaders, it appears to not have made much of an impact one way or another. Most commentators judged the debate as somewhere between boring and lacklustre, which presumably worked in favour of the incumbent front-runner Ontario PCs.
In the aftermath of the debate, Andrea Horwath and the NDP zeroed in again on the Liberals over nomination issues, asking for an investigation of the Liberal candidate in Chatham-Kent-Leamington after allegations were raised about the nomination process. This a week after the Liberals dropped three candidates in as many days and have had to manage candidates in Peel Region being offside from their leader regarding the future Highway 413.
Facing his own challenges with candidates, Doug Ford has said he continues to stand by incumbent candidate Will Bouma in Brantford-Brant after it was revealed he worked with a religious publication advocating against “homosexual lifestyles.” For his part, Bouma responded to the revelations by saying his “views are clear,” and “I support the rights of all my constituents regardless of orientation.”
But it wasn’t all negative for the leaders, Ford and the Tories secured an endorsement from the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) while remaining non-committal to repealing the controversial Bill 124, which capped public sector wages. The PC leader said he’d treat unions “fairly” and renegotiate once the three-year pay freeze under the bill expires. The IUPAT joined the 18,000 members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Construction Council of Ontario (IBEW COO), 80,000 members of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers in endorsing the PC Party in recent weeks. In total, six separate labour unions have endorsed the PC Party and Premier Ford.
The more traditionally pro-union NDP were able to secure the backing of two of Ontario’s largest unions this week. The 180,000 member Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), which has been vocally opposed to Bill 124 having taken out a series of high-profiles ads leading up to and during the election campaign formally endorsed Horwath and the NDP, joining the Ontario Federation of Labour, the largest union in the province. The NDP, and Liberals, have committed to repealing the controversial Bill 124, as well as introducing 10 paid personal emergency leave days for all public workers. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Premier Ford did extend three paid sick days to all Ontarians, but has not committed to extending the policy once the pandemic has passed.
While endorsements do add momentum to campaigns, they should be viewed with a cautious lens that filters for motivation and impact at the polls. Some endorsements come with an expectation that they have hitched their wagons to a winner and will be rewarded after. Other endorsements come because of passionate alignment on an issue or outlook. Whatever the motivation, endorsement does not mean that the union membership will follow the leader.
For their part, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation has taken a more strategic approach, endorsing only individual candidates from both the NDP and the Liberal Party.
Ontario votes on June 2nd.
On the campaign trail
As we near the mid-way point of the Ontario provincial election, topline vote intention is much the same as it was at the outset of the campaign. The Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario (PCs) leads with 37% of the decided and leaning vote, followed by the Ontario Liberal Party (OLP) at 28%, the Ontario New Democratic Party (ONDP) at 23% and the Green Party of Ontario at 7%.
This week, we also investigated the issue of “affordability and cost of living”, specifically asking how important a consideration it will be for how one will vote. There is a massive consensus that crosses all partisan and regional lines that this issue is not only important to everyone’s vote decision, a clear majority describe it as very important. For more on how Ontarians feel the parties should address this issue, check out our latest findings here.
- Thursday, May 19 to Saturday, May 28: Advance voting period
- Friday, May 27, 6:00 p.m. ET: Vote by mail application deadline
- Thursday, June 2: Election Day