Recently, nearly 500 former and current Liberal Queen’s Park and party staffers descended on a downtown watering hole to reconnect, reminisce and renew their involvement in Ontario Liberal politics. This impressive showing of people spanned the Peterson, McLeod, McGuinty and Wynne eras and brought together campaign veterans who have fought in election campaigns for years.
The upbeat mood of the gathering was a marked contrast to the grumblings of Liberals only a few short months ago when rumors were rife with talk about whether Premier Wynne should step down or be challenged before the next election.
Many experienced Liberals felt that circumstances have changed in their favour pointing to two recent surveys by reputable pollsters, Campaign Research and Innovative Research that showed that the Liberals have closed the gap to single digits with Patrick Brown’s Conservatives.
These Liberals were also buoyed by government announcements on raising the minimum wage, youth pharmacare, recommendations in the Changing Workplace report and other initiatives. For many there seemed to be a spring in their step when contrasted to the lack of policy announcements coming from Brown and company.
While Liberals were enjoying the patio weather and regaling in stories from past campaigns, the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario was trying to paper over internal dissent that is turning into a public relations nightmare.
Several nomination meetings have become embarrassments for the party where allegations of ballot stuffing and dirty tricks have raised howls of protests from longtime rank and file Conservatives.
In one case, Lisa MacLeod (MPP Nepean-Carleton) wrote to several high-ranking Tories about the newly nominated candidate in Carleton saying “…I not only believe the current candidate will not win but worse, if she does win, she will not be a suitable representative for my constituents …” MacLeod continued her broadside pointing out that, “Tories are looking for new parties in parts of the riding to support…”
If that wasn’t bad enough the recent Scarborough Centre nomination race turned into a fiasco when more people showed up than were expected and the meeting had to be shut down before everyone had a chance to vote. That led Mike Harris era cabinet minister Marilyn Mushinski, to comment, “I think it would be an absolute disaster if Patrick Brown became the next premier of the province.”
Then there was the nomination meeting in Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas where Ben Levitt was chosen in a hotly contested race where ballot-stuffing allegations has landed the party in court.
These three examples (and there are more) have infuriated Conservatives who saw Wynne and the Liberals ripe for defeat. Instead, many hard-core activists that the party relies on to get their messages out are looking at alternatives. New parties like the Trillium Party headed by former Brown supporter Jack MacLaren (MPP Carleton-Mississippi Mills) have sprung up. Another group of social conservatives are trying to create the Alliance Party of Ontario. Then there’s the I’m Out group who are trying to encourage conservative minded voters to sit out this election in the hopes of creating a minority government so they can sack Brown and replace him with a new leader.
Add to all this is the mounting criticism that Brown has no policy or plan. The originally scheduled policy conference for early November has been scrapped and instead it will feature a rally where Brown will trot out some themes with no opportunity for delegates to debate them or propose resolutions from the floor. Frustration is mounting by candidates and MPPs over what to tell potential voters in the run up to the next election.
So with a Conservative party splintering, Ontario Liberals believe that they have what it takes to not only be competitive but win the next election.
Marcel Wieder is President and Chief Advocate of Aurora Strategy Group. He is an award winning political consultant who has worked on campaigns for over forty years.