Much ink and commentary has been spilt on the future of Kathleen Wynne and the Ontario Liberals. Polling numbers have not been kind and some self-inflicted wounds are causing some people to think that their days are numbered.
Yet, despite all of this, the Ontario Liberals have some strong advantages leading up to the next election. Here’s just a quick rundown of some of them.
The Ontario economy continues to lead the way in Canada. Job creation, economic output and a number of other indices show that the province is getting back its footing. While not all parts of Ontario are sharing in the rebound, the large urban centres are seeing a natural uptick.
A growing economy with lower unemployment usually works to the incumbent government. Many people don’t want to upset the recovery by switching to something unknown and unproven. This gives the Liberals a built in advantage.
And with a growing economy increased government revenues usually accompany it. With a provincial budget in a few weeks that will be in balance for the first time in a number of years, the Liberals will have additional money to placate various groups that have given them grief in the past.
Kathleen Wynne went all in on the rookie federal leader in the last election and came out a winner. Trudeau and his federal colleagues know that to maintain power in the next federal election they need fortress Ontario that delivered the 80 seats. Ontario Liberals played a key role in that victory and you can expect the Ontario caucus and their staff to be out in full force for Wynne. Also key Ontario Liberals hold key positions in Ottawa and are very close to their provincial cousins.
With his America First rant during the inauguration and a series of Executive Orders, Ontarians are nervous about their neighbours to the south. A Liberal campaign will warn that what happened there could happen here if voters flock to the Tories. Wynne has stepped up efforts to protect Ontario industries that may be affected by these policies, especially in auto, manufacturing and agri-foods. On social policies, Wynne clearly easily contrasts with the Republican President. His policies are almost the exact opposite of Ontarians values.
The Opposition Parties
The decision by Patrick Brown to not talk about party policies for the next six months has exposed him as a man without a plan. When asked what he would do about hydro, he had no coherent explanation of what a Tory government would do. Liberals will seize this vacuum to define him by digging up all sorts of ammunition from his record as a Harper-era backbencher. In addition, he has a fractured caucus, most of whom didn’t support him for leader. During the by-election in Scarborough-Rouge River, he sent out letters under his signature opposing the province’s sex education policies. Twenty-four hours later he flipped flopped and retracted his position. His team has demonstrated that they can win a leadership campaign but few of them have managed a provincial wide election campaign.
Andrea Horwath has been pretty quiet of late. The NDP leader is enjoying strong numbers as moderates and progressives who supported Wynne seem to be returning to the party. What is of concern to Horwath and her team is the defection of Deputy Leader Jagmeet Singh to the federal party’s leadership bid. Many voters will interpret this as a lack of confidence in Horwath’s ability to win the next election. She is still hobbled by the ghost of the last election where she lost key long held urban seats. She’ll also miss Cheri De Novo who will retire before the next election.
The Liberals have introduced a number of progressive policies over the past few years that they should see bearing fruit. Free tuition to hundreds of thousand of lower and middle-income families will be very attractive. Infrastructure spending is starting to work its way into communities across the province. Ontario’s cap and trade auction raised half a billion dollars and did not raise much of a howl except from the usual gang of dissenters. A move towards a $15 minimum wage will satisfy many progressives coupled with new rules to make union organizing easier and protecting precarious workers in the gig economy. These are just some of the policies in the Liberals grab bag that will entice voters back to the fold.
One of the Liberals biggest built in advantages is their campaign team. They have delivered winning campaigns over the past fifteen years. There are many veterans available coupled with an energetic new group of campaigners. Altogether Liberals may not have to push the panic button quite yet.
Up Next: Why Ontario Liberals Should Panic, Now.
Marcel Wieder is President and Chief Advocate of Aurora Strategy Group. He is an award winning political consulted who has worked on campaigns for over forty years.