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                                 Tick-Tock:

 Liberals, NDP May Run Out of Time To Own

               Jobs And Economy Issues



By Susanna Kelley

As the clock ticks down to the next election, there is furious speculation about just when that will be.

Many have said a spring election is inevitable, but in reality there are at least two major developments that could put the lie to that.

The first is the outcome of the two by-elections on February 13, in Niagara Falls and Thornhill ridings.

Not to overstate the importance of such votes between general elections, but their outcomes will certainly be taken into account as party apparatchiks read the tealeaves.

Should the Tories lose Thornhill, previously held by PC Peter Sherman, it will increase the nervousness in that party over Tim Hudak’s leadership and ability to win government. After all, besides losing the last election that many thought the party should have won, the Conservatives lost one of their safest seats, Kitchener-Waterloo, to the NDP in a by-election in August last year. To be fair, however, under Mr. Hudak they did make a breakthrough in Toronto as Doug Holyday took the Etobicoke-Lakeshore riding.

Things are not that secure for the other parties either.

Should the Liberals lose Niagara Falls, Premier Kathleen Wynne may have second thoughts about going to the polls this spring.

And should the NDP get shut out of both, Andrea Horwath may not be quite as eager to pull the plug on the government despite the party’s previous wins in Kitchener-Waterloo and London West. Although within her party, many believe those wins signaled that the party can win almost anywhere in the province, except perhaps in the southeast.

The second variable will be the internal party and public poll results in the spring.

It is wise to be careful when it comes to polling results these days, as the industry attempts to work out various accuracy issues caused by the widespread use of cellphones - for which the polling companies don’t have numbers.  Online “panels” and interactive voice recognition (IVR) phone sampling also have their own challenges as polling methods. 

It is safer to look at polling trends, which consistently show the Liberals, PCs and NDP all within striking distance of winning the next election - although perhaps not with a majority government.

So the next campaign will definitely matter.

But what happens before the next campaign matters as well.

It is a basic political truism that without a strongly focused message centering on one or two key policy positions, it’s pretty hard to convince the public your party should form the next government.

A scattergun approach may work in movie shootouts, but it tends to fail in political campaigns.

It must be clearly obvious to voters what the leaders and their parties stand for in order to make a voting decision that isn’t just a begrudging Hail Mary pass.

On this front, Mr. Hudak is out in front.

It’s not so much that he has put out many white papers on party policy. That might be the case except for the fact that their status is fuzzy.

It’s been challenging to get a consistent answer from those surrounding Mr. Hudak. One advisor says the white papers were always for “discussion only” yet no one will say they are not party policy, nor whether they will be in or out of the party’s platform. Instead, they say the platform will be decided by the leader and will come later. Hence the fuzziness.

(It is important to remember that, in truth, election platforms are made up of bits of policy, cherry-picked by the campaign team in conjunction with the leader. Those policy bits are chosen with as much a view to winning the election as governing. As such they give a limited view of what to expect from the leader if she/he becomes Premier. But that’s for another discussion.)

Mr. Hudak says Right To Work will create jobs. Unions say it will cut jobs and lower wages for others.

But Mr. Hudak’s “Million Jobs Act” private members’ bill is a stroke of political savvy.

Observers think it will be road-tested in the by-elections (no matter that its actual contents won’t be revealed until after the February 13 vote, and after the legislature resumes sitting on February 18.)

Similarly, Mike Harris’ campaign team road-tested his Common Sense Revolution in the Haliburton-Victoria-Brock 1994 by-election that PC Chris Hodgson won. Mr. Hudak has virtually the same campaign team as Mr. Harris did in 1995.

Mr. Hudak’s “Million Jobs Act” certainly has its flaws: it promises a million jobs over eight years, and so it is necessarily predicated on him winning two back to back majorities. It is also not really very ambitious, promising only the same number of jobs that Ontario traditionally delivers.

But as it’s thought that jobs will likely be the ballot question in the next election, the slogan “Million Jobs Act” is a clever one.

Should Mr. Hudak just keep repeating the slogan over and over again wherever he goes over the next months, leaving out its caveats, he may have a big political winner.

For he’s on the right election issue, the one Ontarians most have on their minds, and he’s got a simple slogan to sell it with.

The point being if the Liberals and the New Democrats don’t do some serious catching up very soon, Mr. Hudak may well own the “jobs” issue as well as Right To Work, should there be a spring election.

And the party seen as able to create the most jobs may well decide the winner of the next election.   

So, the longer the other parties spin their wheels in staking a claim to the jobs issue, the more they do so at their own peril.

Both the Liberals and the NDP certainly do have policies on job creation and their own view of how to make Ontario prosperous.

Kathleen Wynne is focused on preparing students at community colleges for advanced manufacturing and the knowledge economy. 

Andrea Horwath and the New Democrats want subsidies for businesses creating jobs.

While it is still early, for whatever reasons, neither of those parties are being seen right now as the jobs party.

On the other hand, the chattering classes, at least, know about Mr. Hudak’s Right To Work policy.

The Liberals and the NDP will need to get their ideas on job creation out there in a hurry and in a simple, effective way if they want to catch up with Mr. Hudak.

Voters, like time, wait for no one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Susanna Kelley

Susanna Kelley is Editor-in-Chief and Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for Ontario News Watch. A veteran political and investigative reporter, documentary-maker, host and media commentator, Susanna oversees and has final editorial control over all news production at Ontario News Watch. Susanna has reported for the CBC, the Canadian Press and served as Queen’s Park Bureau Chief for TVOntario for 13 years. She has also hosted a number of documentaries for CBC’s The Current, CBC Radio News and TVOntario’s Studio 2. Passionately dedicated to excellence in political journalism, and having covered both Parliament Hill and Queen’s Park, Susanna believes quality political reporting is essential to a healthy democracy. You can find Susanna here: @susannakelley
Posted date : January 27, 2014

View all of Susanna Kelley's columns
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