Ontario Election 2018 #1 The NDP? Really?

Is your organization prepared for the 2018 Ontario election? How could each party impact your success or complicate your future? HOWE&WYE is offering pre-election briefings and strategy development sessions to ensure your organization isn’t caught flat-footed going into the June election.

In spite of poor polling results of the Liberals of late, there is substantial time before the election to start building populous support for the Liberals. They have the luxury of government announcements (e.g. Minimum Wage, resources and an experienced leader on their side. They also have a long history of poorly executed public policy, a public bribery scandal that has embroiled the premier herself, and a legacy of spending disasters and political outrage.

So how do the Ontario PC’s or NDP take advantage of public sentiment to turn the tide in Ontario? The electorate would seem very ready for change in Ontario and HOWE&WYE is here to deliver our pre-election briefings for you and your organization to ensure you are equally prepared for each potential outcome.  

Our team of political veterans and experts have developed an overview presentation that we can provide to clients or others interested in a briefing on the path to victory for each party.   

How can the NDP Win?

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First of all, the question has to be asked and answered as to whether the NDP even has a shot at winning and we think the answer is yes. It’s highly unlikely, but it is possible. 

It’s mostly possible if the other two parties stumble badly, but that’s not an out-of-the-question scenario either.  The NDP has a likeable, experienced leader entering her third election contest as leader.  Expect Andrea Horwath to be comfortable and cool under pressure. She’s been there before and while the pressure is on for her to perform, even her own party doesn’t expect her to win the entire thing.  Low expectations are easier to meet.

After that, a bunch of “if’s” have to play out for the NDP to win.  “IF” the provincial electorate has a visceral negative reaction to the “right” as a result of what’s happening in the U.S. … “IF” the provincial electorate are scared away from an untested Patrick Brown … “IF” the Ontario Liberals are so out of favour that their move to the “left” is just seen as a cynical ploy … “IF” the NDP are able to field credible, local candidates and the media allow them to be seen as a viable governing alternative … if, if, if …

Why the NDP is not likely to win:

The biggest factor working against the NDP is the move “left” by the Liberals.  Under Premier Wynne, the Liberals have made a decided left-turn and are championing issues focused on “left-leaning” voters.  Raising the minimum wage, changes to labour legislation, strengthening pensions, investments in arts and culture, pharmacare – all of these policies and more are aimed at younger voters, organized labour and other traditional voter pools that the NDP typically fish in.  The Liberals are squeezing the NDP out on their own turf. 

The question becomes, will left-leaning voters in Ontario buy it?  Will they buy the neo-Liberal-left or will they stick with the traditional NDP-left?  We are reminded of the 2002 Ontario PC Leadership campaign where Jim Flaherty’s campaign dressed up a volunteer in a Pink Panther costume and had him follow competitor Ernie Eves around to events handing out flyers that read, “Why would you vote for a pale pink imitation of Dalton McGuinty?” Flaherty’s campaign was pointing out that Ernie Eves was offering a softer version of policy that was a mirror to many of McGuinty’s policies.  They asked why conservative voters would vote for a candidate like Ernie Eves who offered no real alternative to the real Liberal in Dalton McGuinty. We wonder if the NDP might show up at Kathleen Wynne events dressed in pale orange outfits asking, “Why vote for the imitation left?”

On that point, an interesting side-story to watch will be in how much influence the new Federal NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh, will have on the provincial race.  Up until his election as Federal NDP leader in early October, he was the deputy leader of the provincial NDP and probably the strongest campaign asset of the Ontario NDP outside of Andrea Horwath herself.  He has promised to remain active in the provincial NDP campaign and, no doubt, his celebrity status and post-leadership “bump” will be welcomed by his provincial cousins.  More interestingly, however, will be the messages he uses to wrestle the “progressive” vote away from the Liberals.  His success in doing that will be a great test of his ability to do so against the federal Liberals in their campaign of 2019. 

A related challenge is that the NDP support is too diffused across Ontario and in too few places.  They are simply not competitive in enough ridings, particularly in the vote and seat-rich GTA to be a serious threat to either the Liberals or PCs. 

Those of us old enough to remember the NDP’s win in 1990 see a few parallels to what is happening today - unpopular Liberals, new and untested PC leader, the opportunity for a populist groundswell – and so an NDP victory is not out of the question, but a lot of factors are stacked against them winning. Beyond handicapping their chances of victory, however, the more important thing to watch for is how well the NDP does in some key Liberal-held seats. If the NDP can steal votes from the Liberals, that might help a lot of PC’s.  We’ll be watching for NDP strength in places like Scarborough, London, Windsor and the Northern Ontario ridings that are presently Liberal.  If the NDP gains a few points in these places, those ridings could flip to the PC’s.