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ontarionewswatch.com NEWSROOM

                Ontario Polls Haven’t Changed For Almost 18 Months. 

                                              What Comes Next?

 

By Tom Parkin

The latest results from Forum Research are more bad news for Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals. Since September 2016 the Liberals have been stalled. And despite pulling every trick out of the bag and all the stops on the organ, nothing seems to get their engine running.

And without some big change, this June’s election will be a big Liberal wipeout. Time is running out.

Newspaper reports focus on snap shots and short trends. But being up or down within the margin of error is meaningless. It’s the longer trends that matter—and over the past two years, Forum Research has shown two distinct periods.

The first period runs through Spring and Summer 2016. It featured the PCs in a clear lead, the Liberals in clear second and the NDP running third. The second period started in Fall 2016 and continues up until now. In this phase the PCs are still on top while the Liberals fighting the NDP.

In Spring and Summer of 2016, the PCs maintained an average 40% with a 39-41% range. The Liberals, averaged 31% with a 28-35% range. The NDP averaged 21% with a 17-24% range.

But in Summer 2016 came the big shift. Most importantly, between May and September 2016 Liberal support collapsed from 35% to 25% while the NDP ramped up from 17% to 23%.

We can only guess at the reasons for the big shift. But, it’s certainly worth noting that the price of on-peak residential electricity, which had started moving up quickly in mid-2014, hit a historic peak of 18¢/kwh in May 2016. There’s been a reduction from that peak price since the Liberals announced their plan to borrow $26 billion dollars to push off any more price increases until after the next election. After the 2018 election, electricity rates will start increasing again as Premier Kathleen Wynne’s borrowing plan starts to pay back $40 billion to cover the original $26 billion loan with its interest and added fees. Painfully ironically, it’s the kind of put-myself-first policy-making that caused the rate increases in the first place.

Since the Summer 2016 shift, three parties have stayed within stable new ranges, neither trending up or down. The Liberal vote has averaged 24% within a 19-28% range. The PC vote has averaged 43% and a 40-45% range. The NDP vote has averaged 25% within a 23-27% range. The PCs never again dipped below 40%. The Liberals never again exceeded 28%. And the NDP never again fell below 22%.

In September 2016 the horserace showed the PCs at 45%, Liberals at 25% and NDP at 23%. The most recent Forum poll puts the PCs at 43%, NDP at 24% and Liberals at 24%. Statistically, zero change in almost a year and a half.

And that stability has come despite the Liberal government announcing their electrical price plan and attempts to better explain why Hydro One should be a private monopoly. It’s also come despite the announcement of OHIP+, a plan to provide pharmacare to Ontarians under 25 years old, and a higher minimum wage, which has overwhelming voter support. Without doubt, Wynne seized on pharmacare and minimum wage hikes (policies the NDP’s Horwath had been advocating) as a counter-attack strategy to take back ground lost to Andrea Horwath’s NDP. Clearly, that mission has failed.

The months-long effort to contain the NDP has, of course, allowed Patrick Brown’s PCs to continue without much attention—even though the PCs are where the votes are. It is possible that Wynne could now shift her guns off the NDP’s Horwath and target Brown. Wynne could challenge Brown over her privatization and deficit-cutting plans, for example. But the transparent desperation of such a volte-face would probably be too much.

But with her battle against the insurgent NDP stalled and the fight against government-in-waiting PCs waived off, it’s hard to see where a breakout could come from. Anything is possible, but despite all efforts, the Ontario Liberals haven’t been able to budge the needle in almost 18 months. If those efforts haven’t worked, what will?

And the news gets worse for the Liberals. Ontario doesn’t have a proportional representation system and what matters isn’t the level of popular support but having that vote concentrated in winning ridings. The problem for the Liberals is they have weak vote concentration and their level of popular support doesn’t efficiently translate into seats.

Since September 2016, Forum found four times the NDP and Liberals held equal support or were within one point of each other. And at equal popular support levels, Forum each time projects the NDP electing at between two and three times the MPPs as the Liberals.

Forum’s last seat project shows the Liberals electing only 12 MPPs. That’s been about the norm since September 2016. Sixty-two MPPs are required for a majority.

And the distortions of first-past-the-post dramatically help the PCs. Since the Liberal collapse in September 2016, each Forum seat projection has predicted a majority government to the PCs, even if only holding 40% support.

PC Leader Patrick Brown has recently announced his platform, which has also failed to break the political stasis—though it’s certainly no big problem for him. Brown’s plan includes about $6 billion in spending cuts and new tax cuts that deliver their maximum benefit to high-income earners. For those opposed to that kind of policy, stalled polls and vote efficiency makes the NDP the most vote-efficient means to stop him, though that will play out in individual ridings.

Now it’s Horwath’s turn to try to break the political logjam. The question is whether Horwath can step on the gas pedal just as Wynne may have emptied her tank. Horwath’s platform launch is still coming up.

If Horwath, who also has the advantage of holding the highest approval rating, can use her launch to move into a higher vote range, she may become the obvious choice for Ontarians who want a change of government—but not a change back to cuts and austerity.

 

Tom Parking is a veteran NDP strategist, columnist and a frequent commentator on political issues.

 

 

 

 

Posted date : January 17, 2018
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