In the Thick of It: Unpacking the 2022 Ontario Provincial Election
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May 12, 2022 In the Thick of It: Unpacking the 2022 Ontario Provincial Election
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May 12, 2022

The Empire Club of Canada Presents

In the Thick of It: Unpacking the 2022 Ontario Provincial Election

Chairman: Kelly Jackson, President, The Empire Club of Canada; Vice-President, External Affairs & Professional Learning, Humber College

Presentation
David Coletto, CEO & Founding Partner, Abacus Data

Moderator
Martin Regg Cohn, Political Columnist, the Toronto Star

Panelists
Colin MacDonald, Principal, Navigator
Dennis Matthews, President, Creative Currency
Kim Wright, Principal, Wright Strategies

Distinguished Guest Speaker
Jan Westcott, President & CEO, Spirits Canada

Welcome Address by Kelly Jackson, President of the Board of Directors, The Empire Club of Canada
Good evening, and welcome to the 118th season of the Empire Club of Canada. My name is Kelly Jackson. I am the President of the Board of Directors of the Empire Club, and I'm Vice-President of External Affairs and Professional Learning at Humber College. It's a pleasure to be here with you tonight. We're hosting our first Empire Nights since 2020, and we had an opportunity last month to return to our in-person luncheons. And it's just great to be here with everybody this evening; to have a drink, to have some discussion and chats, and connect, and to be able to hear this great panel.

I want to take a minute, because I want to extend a special thank you to all of the people here, and beyond, who have supported our events over the past two years. We've successfully held more than 70 virtual events since the start of the pandemic, connecting thousands of people across Canada, and internationally, to the critical conversations of our time. This past year has been one of tremendous growth for the club. We've implemented state-of-the-art technology, to help us deliver best-in-class events, whether in person or online. We refreshed our brand, and launched a new website, with access to our extensive library of keynote speeches, and virtual panel discussions. We honoured former AFN Chief Perry Bellegarde as our 2021 Nation Builder of the Year, and we've worked to advance reconciliation, through dedicated conversations, and support for a scholarship at the First Nations University of Canada.

Like all businesses and organizations, it's an understatement to say that our operations have been impacted by the changing nature of the pandemic. So, to have achieved these accomplishments during these times, makes me incredibly proud of the Empire Club staff team, and all the dedicated members of our Board of Directors. Some of those people are here today, including some of the members of our Evening Events Committee, and I would like you to join me in thanking them for their contributions and commitment.We also have some volunteers here this evening to help with the event, including some from Humber College in the Event Management Program, and I want to thank them for their efforts.

To formally start us off this evening, I want to acknowledge that we are gathered today on the Traditional and Treaty lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit, and the homelands of the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wyandot Peoples. In acknowledging Traditional Territories, I do so from a place of understanding the privilege my ancestors and I have had in this country, since they first arrived here in the 1830’s. As farmers in southwestern Ontario, I imagine they felt a very deep connection to the land, and yet likely did not recognise how that connection was built on the displacement of others. Delivering land acknowledgement, for me, it's always an important opportunity to reflect on our human connection, and responsibility to care for the land; and to recognise that to do so, we must always respect each other and acknowledge our histories. At the club, we encourage everyone to learn more about the Traditional Territory on which you work and live.

The Empire Club of Canada is a non-profit organization. So, I would like to recognize our sponsors, because they generously support the club, and make these kinds of events possible. Thank you to our lead event sponsor, Spirits Canada; thank you to today's supporting sponsors, the Convenience Industry Council of Canada, and OMERS; and a big thank you to our season sponsors, Bruce Power, Canadian Bankers Association, LiUNA, and Waste Connections of Canada.

Quickly on the housekeeping front, we do have time today built in to the programme for audience questions. So, if you would like to submit a question, you can use your phone to scan the QR code that you will find in the programme booklet, that should be at everybody's seat.

It is now my pleasure to invite David Coletto, CEO and Founding Partner at Abacus Data, to get us started this evening with a brief presentation, that’s going to set the scene for the panel discussion that is going to follow. The stage is all yours, David, welcome

David Coletto, CEO & Founding Partner, Abacus Data
Well, good evening, everybody, good afternoon. I live in Ottawa, so coming to this city and seeing actual people on the streets is a nice change, and not a whole bunch of trucks. So, if you happen to want to come to Ottawa, we could use some folks in the downtown area. But elections are, as people often asked me, “are they like your Super Bowl?” And they kind of are for political nerds like me, and I’m really excited to share some data with you today. Now, I was thinking how many elections I've done polling for, since Abacus was started in 2010, and I think I've kind of lost count. But it seems to me, at the beginning of every election, most of them have some kind of friction that gets people kind of wound up, or, you know, energized, either because they really don't like someone or something, or they're really thrilled for it. You think back to the last federal election just a few months ago, just calling the election was the friction that got people either completely annoyed, or excited. And my sense is, looking at the data and how people are responding to these first few weeks, the fact that, in a survey we're just doing right now, 58% of Ontarians said they're only following the election a little bit, and 12% didn't even know there was an election, right? Tells me that this first week of the campaign really hasn't created much friction. And I think what I'm going to sort of set the stage for the panel discussion today, is share some data about why I think, even though we're just about a week into this campaign, or one week, exactly, Doug Ford is really in the driver's seat. And so, we've got a survey that we did with 1500 Ontarians, we completed it last week. And we released some of this data yesterday, but I want to take you through what I'm seeing, and why I think Doug Ford has such an advantage, and what the opposition parties might need to do to overcome that, in the short period of time that they have left. And so, although Martin, on our pre-call said, “David, don't just talk about the horse race,” I'm going to start with the horse race, because frankly, that's what we typically like. And what we're find is that right now, Doug Ford's got a 9-point lead over the Ontario Liberals, with the New Democrats 22, and the greens at 5. Okay, so a nine-point lead, up slightly from a poll we did in April. And if you look back to the 2018 campaign, Tories are down slightly, Liberals up significantly, the NDP have fallen quite a bit from where they were.

So, let's unpack why the Tories have this lead, and there's a number of demographic and behavioural differences that I think are really interesting. Can we go to the next slide, please. All right, first off, let's look at the regional breakdown. Now, we're in a place now—again, I came in from Ottawa, and obviously Toronto is very different than the rest of the province, and the results here really confirmed that the Liberals are ahead; everywhere else, the PCs are ahead by significant margins. Okay. When we look at age on the next slide, one of the things we spend a lot of time at Abacus looking at, what we find is the Tories are ahead among anyone over the age of 30 by significant margins, particularly look at those over 60, a 14-point lead. But among those under the age of 30, it’s again, a very different province; the Tories are in 3rd, with the Liberals and the New Democrats tied. The next slide please.

Now, if I told you that Doug Ford and the PCs are leading among non-unionized Ontarians, public sector unionized Ontarians, and private sector union Ontarians a few years ago, you would have said, “David, that's not possible.” But that's the state we're in today; he's leading across all three of those groups. And so, to understand sort of the makeup of that Ford coalition means that they've made some significant gains in building relationships with folks who, if you look back to the 2014 Ontario election in which Kathleen Wynne won her majority, the difference between those working in the public sector and the private sector was almost night and day. That gap has pretty much been eliminated. Next slide, please.

Home ownership, as I'll show you in a minute, is the top issue in this campaign; Doug Ford and the PCs have sizable leads among homeowners. Outside of the GTA, he leads by almost 40 points over the other 2 parties, among those who own a home; and among renters, again, a very different story. So built on homeowners. On the next slide, 76% of Ontarians own a car, lots of talk about highways, licence plate renewal fee rebates. And when I go to the next slide, I'll show you why, among car owners, that second bar there, Doug Ford and the PCs lead by 14; but if you don't own a car in the province, again, a very different picture. So, if you own something, a house, a car, much more likely to vote PC right now. Next slide, please.

The other thing to keep in mind is, again, a few months ago, we had a federal election, the Federal Liberals won the popular vote here in Ontario. Part of the PC coalition is built upon the fact that about one out of five Federal Liberal voters right now say they would vote for the Ontario PC Party. PCs are holding pretty much all of their federal counterparts’ votes, the New Democrats holding the bulk of theirs, but if the Liberals are going to catch up to the Tories, they have to find a way to close that gap, and bring those people back into the Liberal tent. Next slide.

So, what explains this coalition? I think there's three factors that are important to keep in mind. Next slide. First, the desire for change in this province, something that we regularly track—most pollsters do in some way—isn't as widespread, nor is it as intense as it's been in different elections, or certainly in the last election. If we go to the next slide, right now, 48% of Ontarians say they definitely want to change in government. Now, you say to me, “David, that's a lot of people,” but it's not sufficient in a multi-party system, to easily or clearly defeat the incumbent government. In fact, since April, since the campaign started, that number hasn't moved at all. So, if you're going to be successful as an opposition party, over the course of the campaign, that number should inch up. Right now, we aren't seeing any movement on that on that front. Next slide, please. If we compare, that green bar is where we are today in Ontario. If you go back to the 2018 election, 63% of Ontarians definitely wanted to change in government, that was an obvious change election. If you look federally, the last weekend of the federal election we just had, 50% wanted a change in government, the Liberals lost the popular vote, but they were re-elected with a minority. So, we're not at that stage yet—getting close, but not quite—that the Tories need to be worried about the desire for change in the province. Next slide, please. But if you look at those change voters, one of the reasons why the Tories aren't necessarily quite worried at all, is they split almost evenly between the Liberals and the New Democrats. Next slide. Among that 48% who definitely want to change in government, 37% would vote Liberal, 34% New Democrat, and then the rest split out. Even some who definitely want change are still going to vote PC, because maybe they don't like the candidate, or they don't like any of the options, which is a big part of the story going forward. Next slide, please.

Third thing is the issues. When you look at the top issues that Ontarians are telling that will drive their vote, the Tories are either leading or competitive on all of them when we asked which party you think will do the best job? If we move ahead to the next slide, this is the list of top issues. Cost of living is at the top, 59% of Ontarians say it is one of their top three issues, followed by housing affordability and accessibility, 39%, improving the health care system, keeping taxes from going up, and growing the economy and creating jobs. If you take those five issues, you can't imagine five that are probably better suited for Doug Ford and the Conservative campaign. If you go down that list, long-term care and seniors care 21%, fighting climate change 20%, responding to the pandemic 19%—it wasn't long ago that that one issue was number one, but it's fallen quite down the list over time. On the next slide, and we asked those people who said those are their top issues, which party do you think is best to handle them? This election is about the cost of living. When you ask those folks who’s best, the Tories are well ahead, a double-digit lead compared to the New Democrats and the Liberals, and they're either in the lead, or tied with the other parties on housing, and health care, and well ahead when it comes to who do you think is best to manage the economy or keep your taxes from going up. So, no desire for change, they own the issues at this moment. The last factor, if we can go to the next slide, is the fact—which is shocking for me to say, given where we've been over the last three-and-a-half years—that Doug Ford is the most popular leader in the province of Ontario right now. Next slide, please.

This is a kind of track, we stopped polling for a number of months in 2001, but if you go all the way back to 2019, right? Remember those days pre-pandemic. There was a moment where 61% of Ontarians said, “I don't like Doug Ford,” Doug Ford was the least popular premier in the country. And then the pandemic happened, and things that us pollsters—I know John Wright, from Maru Blue is here—rarely see, is a kind of shift that we saw, where from 61, in a few months, he went down to negatives of 25. And it went up and down, and last April, he had a pretty bad Friday, that people both on the left and the right reacted pretty negatively to, but if you look at where we are today, equal numbers have a positive and negative view of Doug Ford. And that's not great numbers, but they're better than Justin Trudeau federally, and they're better than most premiers headed into a re-election campaign. And if you go to the next slide, and we compare Doug Ford to his primary competitors, you can see he's got a net even; Andrea Horvath is about the same, 30 positive, 32 negative; Steven Del Duca, who's still relatively unknown, but has a net negative impression. Andrea Horvath, who's been leader of the New Democrats for almost 14 years now, is starting this campaign less popular than she was when the last campaign ended—she was the most popular politician in the province at the end of the last campaign but hasn't been able to find much traction since then, and so, is not unpopular, but doesn't have the energy and positivity that she had that helped her catapult ahead of Kathleen Wynne in the last provincial election. Next slide, please. When we ask people, who do you think is gonna be the best premier, remember, the Liberals were second on our ballot question. But when we asked, who do you think the best premier is, Mr. Del Duca falls down to third; but still, both of them are well back of Doug Ford. And you take out those who are unsure, and he's got over a 20-point lead on best premier, right? Another indicator that Doug Ford's in a strong position. Next slide, please.

So, when you take the fact that you've got solid, broad coalition of voters, geographically diverse, crosses different demographics—particularly those demographics who are more likely to vote, think older voters, those living in the suburbs—they've got issue ownership, and they've got the most popular leader. Unless that changes, it's very likely that Doug Ford and the Conservatives are going to win again, right? That's advantage PC. Next slide, please.

But there is one variable that we need to watch as this campaign gets towards early June, and that is can one of the two opposition parties, David Hurley—another pollster, you've probably listened to his podcast—described these first weeks of the campaign as the “Progressive primary,” right? Which of the parties can consolidate those change voters, and if they do, if eight percentage points of the electorate moves from the New Democrats to the Liberals, or the Liberals to the New Democrats, that gap between the parties shrinks, and it becomes a very different kind of election. But the challenge for the New Democrats—and Kim, I'm going to make your job up here a little bit harder—is this. Next slide. When we ask Ontarians who do you think is going to win the election, only 10% of Ontarians think the New Democrats are gonna win. Why do you think it was you had surrogates like Kim, and others on the campaign trail last week, saying “we're the only party that can beat Doug Ford,” because public perception was, that they aren't likely going to win this election; and so, this is the fight. More people still think the PCs are going to win this, which is probably why people aren't that engaged in this election. But the fight for that change voter—which is substantial—needs to happen, and my sense is it hasn't really been happening all that much, in part because in order to consolidate the vote, people need a reason to move there, they have to want to change the government, and feel friction around that. Last slide, please. So, to wrap up, I apologize for the technology, but, you know, I'm often a pretty cautious and conservative pollster, I've been criticized for like not going out on a limb and making a prediction, when some of my colleagues do in the industry. I’m hard-pressed not to look at this data and think, unless something fundamentally changes, either people wake up one day and say, “I'm going to start paying a lot of attention,” and their and their views change, or some issue excites them and creates friction, we're likely headed towards another PC majority government. So, thank you very much for your time, and looking forward to the panel. Thank you.

Kelly Jackson
Thanks, David. The good news is there's not really any screen or technology involved with the panel discussion. You’ve given us a lot to think about, and a lot of good stuff for the panel to dive into. I'd like to invite each of the panelists now to join me on stage, and I’ll ask you just to come up one at a time when I call your name. So please join me in welcoming Colin MacDonald, Principal, Navigator; Dennis Matthews, President, Creative Currency; Kim Wright, Principal, Wright Strategies; and our moderator this evening, Martin Regg Cohn, Political Columnist at the Toronto Star. And with that, Martin, over to you.

Martin Regg Cohn, Political Columnist at the Toronto Star
Thank you, Kelly. Can you all hear me all right? I'm not used to having live events where you can actually ask a crowd if they can hear you—when you ask people that on Zoom, you don't really get very far. Thank you. Okay, technology—Kelly, you lied—all right. Yeah. Kim, David called you a surrogate, are you okay with that?

Kim Wright, Principal, Wright Strategies
I've been called worse.

Martin Regg Cohn
Okay. You're gonna be a truth-teller tonight.

Kim Wright
Always.

Martin Regg Cohn
We're all going to tell the truth, because we have a tough crowd; we can't dance around this. So, I'm here allegedly as a moderator, but I'm also a commentator in my in my day job. So, I might sneak in a few rhetorical questions and rhetorical answers along with today's performance. But one of my other jobs, or tasks, or missions in life, is to run something called the Democracy Forum, at what used to be called Ryerson University. Now there's a new name for it—kind of like the Liberal Party—the new Ryerson is Toronto Metropolitan University, as you know; no branding comments from anybody, please. And one of the events that we had early in the year, in January, was an event called—we had Doug Ford a couple years ago, he only came by Zoom, so that nobody would throw shoes at him—you laughed. But we had an event, also on Zoom, in January, with the three opposition leaders, it was their turn. And the question, which I dreamed up was, “who can defeat Doug Ford?” And that question really sold. It got, we had a huge registration, are really big audience for that one, our best ever. And it told me two things: one, a lot of people wanted to defeat Doug Ford, and two—David, before you interrupt me, that is not a reliable polling metric—that was a self-selected group of people who wants to defeat the Premier. So, I'm going to make a confession, and then and then a question, which is that maybe I asked the wrong question. Because maybe, after watching your presentation, and looking myself at the numbers, and what's been happening, that maybe nobody can defeat Doug Ford. And so, I want to turn to our esteemed panel, and ask, did I ask the wrong question in January? And maybe we'll drill down and a supplementary—which I won't tell you yet, but it's something to do with, is this the calm before the storm, or not? So, Kim, why don't you kick it off?

Kim Wright
Oh, gosh, after David's presentation? Well, look, the reality is, there are a lot of people out in Ontario—and I've been travelling around a lot over the last week or so talking to people—and there's one, a lot of anger out there about various and sundry things, but there's a lot of concern, and we saw it in David's numbers around the housing crisis. If you are trying to rent anywhere in the province of Ontario, I don't care if you're talking about a large urban centre like Toronto, or a small town like I'm from called Tilbury, it's impossible—and if you can find one, it’s astronomically priced. And so, those affordability metrics are out there, so people aren't sure what can be done about it, and I think that's an opportunity for leaders to break through on that.

Martin Regg Cohn
We’ll drilled down...

Kim Wright
Yeah.

Martin Regg Cohn
...on affordability and some of the issues in a few minutes, but talk about that tough one.

Kim Wright
But what's really interesting to me is—and I see this in each campaign—there's always that “what could be done,” and, you know, “nobody cares in the first few days,” and then all of a sudden, leaders debates happen, and we'll talk about that for sure. But what we've also seen in the last couple of days, has been the question about who is the change agent, Andrea Horvath, or Steven Del Duca? And one of the things we've seen a lot in last couple of days, has been a lot of people talking about the Liberals’ candidates that have been tossed out at the last minute, not running a full slate of candidates. Steven Del Duca, not exactly catching fire, and questions as to whether or not he can win his own seat. Those are significant questions that we're seeing. Andrea Horvath is going around into communities that you wouldn't traditionally think of as fertile New Democrat ground, but when you look at the last election where she came out first or second in 100 of the 124 ridings, she is catching fire in strange and wonderful places, that you have to win if you want to form government. So, that's where I'm seeing the big difference.

Martin Regg Cohn
Okay, I'm looking at my crib sheet here—even though I criticize the politicians for using crib sheets.

Kim Wright
You didn't bring a full binder, so you're better than the Premier will be next week.

Martin Regg Cohn
True. But I'm gonna read from a column—because it sounds like you're being a surrogate, I'm gonna be hard on you here—and I read from a column that I wrote the other day, in which—I'm gonna quote from my own column.

Kim Wright
You’re going to quote from your own column? That’s brilliant.

Martin Regg Cohn
I can't remember. Horvath insisted she merits the mantle of “dragon slayer,” best positioned to snuff out Ford's fire, because the NDP won 40 seats in 2018, and finished second in another 60 ridings. Parenthetically—I added editorial comment—the Tories, lest we forget, 176 writings. So, that's not the question, though. The question is, can anybody defeat Doug Ford?

Dennis Matthews, President, Creative Currency
Well, so last summer, I spent a couple of months working in Nova Scotia for the Nova Scotia PC Party on their provincial election campaign, and they came back from 28-point deficit over the course of that summer, and into the campaign. And I don't think anybody in a room like this in Halifax was sitting out there saying, “Tim Houston's gonna be Prime Minister come election time.” And so, I think, you know, first and foremost, campaigns really do matter. And I loved how, you know, Coletto described it as a “frictionless start to the campaign.” Like there’s, the campaign began, and nobody sort of noticed, it's kind of rolling along a little bit, and there's obviously potential for people to wake up one morning and say, “wow, there's election campaign going on,” take a look at the landscape and say, “hey, maybe I'm happy with where things are going,” or “maybe I'm not.” And I say that because I do think campaigns matter, but I'm gonna put a big sort of caveat on that, which is, there's I think, 20, 21 days left, like, there's not a lot of time here. And so, when you look at that sort of advantage for it—and obviously, I’m coming at things from a Conservative perspective here—but there's not a lot of time, and some of the building blocks for a change election. And if you're going to have a change election, it's not on the government to make that case, it's on the opposition parties to find a way to get voters fired up. And a lot of—you know, I don't think anybody ever call Premier Ford boring, but a lot of boring governments get re-elected. And when campaigns aren't really super contentious, that's an advantage incumbent, and so that's where I think that sort of mirrors up to some of the data we saw here.

Martin Regg Cohn
He's a lot more boring than he was four years ago, and that's meant as a compliment.

Dennis Matthews
Yeah.

Martin Regg Cohn
I mean, he really is more modulated, and—but we won't talk about Doug Ford's personality transplant. Let's talk about voters. So, David, do you think this campaign has the potential to matter? Or, put another way, can anyone defeat Doug Ford?

Dennis Matthews
The campaign definitely has a potential to matter. I think, you know, we've made some jokes about the binder tonight, and about modulating his mood, but 21 days is a long time in politics—and it's a very long time in Doug Ford land—so there's a ton that can happen. I think the question around who can beat Doug Ford has sort of unintentionally been answered over and over again, by members of the NDP, the leader of the NDP, and now I think Kim a little bit as well. And that's by the fact that the Official Opposition, who is telling us all they're in such a strong position, is spending 99% of their time talking about the leader of the third party, and about the fact that he may or may not win a seat, which tells you where their stress is coming from, and what they're worried about. I think the Liberals are spending a lot of time talking about the Premier and his record, and the NDP seem to be focusing an incredibly strong amount, or a large amount of their time and effort talking about Mr. Del Duca.

Martin Regg Cohn
And I'm going to just torture you, Kim, for one more second, and read, not for my column but from the NDP leader. And she said—it sounds like a talking point, I'm going to just say— “we are the only ones that can defeat Doug Ford,” and it's a constant line, “the best shot to get rid of Doug Ford this time, is to vote NDP.” Dennis, is that true?

Dennis Matthews
I love the saying the “progressive primary,” going on, because I'm not sure that it is true. I think it could be true, and if you look at—I thought the regional breakdown is interesting, of the province, because there's a bit of a running up of the score happening with the Liberals in Toronto. And you know, you see this in campaigns all the time, where they look a little higher, until you get out there and do the breakdown. But I don't, you know, we have a setup right now, where the splits are out there, and it's not clear to me that people who are currently, you know, thinking about Liberal, are going to go NDP, or vice versa. It feels like we're a little bit in a in a locked holding pattern, unless something can really change that.

Martin Regg Cohn
Yeah. Everyone always says elections matter—and I've covered a number of elections, I don't pretend to be an expert—this election is very different from previous elections. There's no real leader’s tour, unless you're on the NDP tour, because Doug Ford pioneered this idea of not having a leader’s tour in the last election campaign. And Steven Del Duca has climbed aboard that bus, so to speak. Not for the same reasons, perhaps, he runs a very open campaign, compared to what could be called, I think fairly, a peekaboo campaign for Doug Ford, certainly yesterday, when he was unavailable—well, he was door knocking, but no one was invited to watch—so it's a campaign that's completely different from previous campaigns, completely different from the last campaign, also, in terms of issues. Now “buck-a-beer” has become “buck-a-ride,” and the change fire that David talked about in the last election, is absent this time, far as I can tell so far. And let's just do the disclaimer that David only mentioned very briefly—and that everyone in this room knows, but we always lose sight of—is, polling is a snapshot in time, no matter how sophisticated and nimble it is; and this is great polling, but it's polling. I was gonna say pre-debate, post—well, it was pre-the last debate, too—there was a debate a couple of days ago, I guess it was Monday; was it Monday?

Kim Wright
It was Monday. Only Monday.

Colin MacDonald, Principal, Navigator
Tells you how exciting it was though, right?

Martin Regg Cohn
Yeah. And I don't know how many nerds in this room watched it, but when I looked at the live stream, there were 506 people watching, so it's possible that you're a subset of that group. But it was a tough debate. I don't want to pick on the Northern debate, I've had to sit through a few of them—this was the worst debate ever, and I think everyone would agree, I mean, there were questions about cottagers making noise and then, anyway. But in the last Northern debate, Andrea Horvath had an outstanding debate for New Democrats, in the sense that she came out fighting, she attacked Kathleen Wynne, called her corrupt a number of times, and put Kathleen Wynne on her heels; and this time, it didn't happen. I'm not sure—I argued the other day that Steven Del Duca didn’t really shake things up either. And Doug Ford looked slightly shaky, but stood his ground, more or less, than then fled his ground when he didn't take questions. And as some of you may know he, he didn't do the scrum post-debate. Now, I know journalists love scrums; I happen to agree with most party handlers, it's about the debate, not the scrum. But still, it’s a courtesy, it's a tradition, you do a post-debate scrum, and he didn't. So, I feel like this election is actually maybe not going to matter, so far. We all know that Ontario politics is different in that it's not BC politics, it's not Québec, people don't pay attention till later. But let's think about how the opposition, let's go to Colin, how the opposition—and no one's the opposition now, we're in the middle of a campaign—how the Liberals can defeat or overtake Doug Ford, defeat Doug Ford, but also overtake the NDP in terms of being that “dragon slayer.” You say that you're above the fray, you're not taking shots at Andrea Horvath.

Colin MacDonald
I didn’t say that.

Martin Regg Cohn
Not you, but you're a surrogate, but the Liberals are—it's true that Andrea Horvath talks all the time about the big bad Liberals, and Steven Del Duca doesn't talk that much about the NDP at all. So, how's he going to be the “dragon slayer?” How's he going to pull a Justin Trudeau over a Tom Mulcair?

Colin MacDonald
So, I think the first thing is, and you touched on it a little bit, it is incredibly difficult for a leader of the opposition, never mind the leader of the third party in Ontario, to get any coverage—despite, I know, Martin, what is your best efforts on a on a day-to-day basis—but for them to get any sustained coverage in the period between elections, right? So, you take that, and you add in a leader of the third party, who hasn't—not only doesn’t has not had a seat in the legislature, but has been spending a lot of his time building his own party back up, and working internally with his own party members, to try and generate excitement, candidates, rebuild, all that kind of stuff. So, the first part of the campaign, I would argue, was always going to be about Steven introducing himself, trying to give people a sense of who he is, trying to demonstrate some thoughtfulness, trying to demonstrate that the platform that they’ve brought out, and I think that's—you know, platforms aren't always, as we all know, platforms aren't always released in the first week of the campaign, right? Sometimes the idea is, you sit on it for a while, if you’re the NDP, you decide you don't want to put your numbers for a while, you know, there's different strategies to this. But the point is, is that he was going to build, he is building, he is introducing himself, and he's starting to convince people, or trying to introduce people to these policies and ideas, and a really robust platform. I mean, I think it'd be hard to argue that there's not a ton of thoughtful, and in some cases provocative, policy ideas in there. So, you build on that, you introduce people, you use the debate that's coming, I think, as a as a time to sort of pivot and to move into that next phase, and then you probably start to go a bit more on the offensive, and you probably start to remind people a little bit. You know, I think one of the interesting things about all of this, is that a lot of us have sort of forgotten about the first two years of the incumbent government, right? The havoc, and the, well, everything that resulted in the 65% disapproval rating that David showed us earlier. And I think there's going to be a time to remind people about that, and to tell people that this is where we're going, or this is maybe getting ourselves back into, and I think that's what's to come.

Martin Regg Cohn
Yeah, that's a good question. But so far, people have forgotten, and people do have short memories in politics. Okay, I have a question for both Dennis and Kim, because in a way, you're both NDP surrogates for this question, which is, to explain to me why you are both concerned about the NDP fall in—because if you have vote splits, Tories need a strong NDP in many, not all ridings. And so, according to our guru of polling, and the numbers that we've seen earlier today, there has been a measurable fall—allowing for margins of error and so on—there has been a measurable fall, given the premise that is driving Andrea Horvath’s campaign, that we are best positioned to overtake the Tories, and leave the Liberals in the dust; they've gone down, Liberals have gone up, even before the campaign started, right? Even before the debate. Why is that happening? Dennis first.

Dennis Matthews
Well, I’d say a couple of things there. I mean, you know, first, I think a lot of mythology is built around the vote splits.

Martin Regg Cohn
About the...?

Dennis Matthews
About the vote-splitting.

Martin Regg Cohn
The vote-splitting.

Dennis Matthews
And if you look at the PC vote, I mean, if you're sitting around 40%, which is where sort of polling shows the campaign is, where they were last time, you know, you're going to win. And where the numbers can get run up, is if there's some, you know, attractive vote splits that sort of drive up that score. But it's not as though the PC Party is sitting here saying, “well, hey, we're at 28%, and if only this or that happens.” The second set of....

Martin Regg Cohn
Setting aside the vote splits—like, I gave you an out.

Dennis Matthews
Okay, you gave me an out, but the second thing, though, is....

Martin Regg Cohn
Explain the decline.

Dennis Matthews
I think the interesting thing is the union slide, the union, non-union voters, there's been, it's easy for us to say, well, maybe this is the most exciting campaign, maybe not a lot is happening within the campaign. A lot has happened to the Conservative Party of Ontario, especially if you have long memories in this room, you go back to the 1990s, the Harris PCs, you look at the Hudak PCs, it's a completely different party today. And I think, regardless of where the vote count ends up, I think there's some scenarios where you have a very similar legislature, but you actually have some different seats—and I'd be looking at the North, I'm looking at the Windsor area, some parts of Southwestern Ontario, where the vote pool has shifted over a little bit, and traditional maybe NDP voters are now in the PC camp, and there's a different battle going on between NDP and Liberal voters than you've seen before, so there can be churn within a system, even if it kind of produces some similar results.

Martin Regg Cohn
And this is despite Doug Ford taking a lot of shots at the union movement, calling elected union leaders union bosses, and cutting paid sick days.

Dennis Matthews
I think there's some of that, but if you look at if you look at, you know, take Minister McNaughton for example. I mean, he's been on a mission the last number of years here to build these bridges.

Martin Regg Cohn
You mean his leadership drive?

Dennis Matthews
No, but the....

Kim Wright
But recognizing the first two years that Premier Ford ripped up a whole bunch of labour agreements, a whole bunch of contracts, and Monte, to his credit, Monte McNaughton has been an extraordinary Labour Minister. No question about that.

Colin MacDonald
He’s even decided he's gonna shower exclusively at night, so.

Dennis Matthews
But I think, any data that you look at, obviously the first couple years you're in a reset, you’re, you know, what's the go forward, and the labour movement is one of those big reset points for the government here.

Kim Wright
Yeah. So, one of the things that's been fascinating to watch—and I know we're in downtown Toronto, and everyone likes to talk about the strategic voting that happens in downtown Toronto, because a Conservative somehow in Toronto Danforth will magically appear. That's not what happens, but the parking lot that is the liberal strategic voting mythical beast, never quite pans out. But what we've seen in the last couple of campaigns—and Dennis is quite right—what we see is that battleground being the Southwestern Ontario corridor from Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge, down to Windsor, the North, some places in in Eastern Ontario. We're also seeing big battlegrounds in Peel region that, you know, three campaigns ago, New Democrats did not play, and they are absolutely there, where they hold most of the seats in Brampton...

Martin Regg Cohn
London.

Kim Wright
London, Kitchener-Waterloo, across the North. I saw polling data—not from David, admittedly, a Mainstreet poll—the other day that had Lisa MacLeod very narrowly at like 1 or 2 points ahead of the New Democrats there, with the with the Liberal candidate 10 points back. That's in Ottawa West—Nepean, that's not, again, what I was saying earlier about places, traditionally New Democrats aren't, you know, playing really big in. They're definitely playing in those riding by riding, so one of the things that's has been the hallmark of Andrea's campaigns has been going out into those non-traditional ridings, going out and talking to people where they live, where they're at, forgetting a bit about the great liberal parking lot, which is what we're seeing a lot in this polling data.

Martin Regg Cohn
Okay. I'm familiar with parking lots, I covered the Ed Broadbent campaign for Prime Minister decades ago, and people do park votes.

Kim Wright
Absolutely.

Martin Regg Cohn
I'm wondering if they're parking a vote with the NDP now, or have been for the last couple of years, and people are leaving the parking lot, I guess is the question. I'm wondering if Horvath mania hasn't taken root?

Kim Wright
Oh, this is where I disagree. And one of the things you're going to see, you know, this weekend, she's doing an event in Brampton with Jagmeet Singh, but we've seen this in the last federal campaign as well. The two of them have this really interesting dynamic that that plays well with crowds, which makes really great television, but it also gets people really excited and really jacked up. But what we're also seeing in a lot of the data, and a lot of the research, is on healthcare, on issues that actually matter, and that are really close to home to people, Andrea consistently punches well above where—with all due respect to the media—they like to position her in.

Dennis Matthews
It is a challenge, though, that we're, you know, we're 14 years into her leadership, and each campaign is sort of a bit of a reintroduction that happens at the beginning.

Kim Wright
I give you, it's a bit of an anomaly, but she still has that Steeltown scrapper side, which has made her have to also reintroduce people to the concept of the feisty opposition leader that can be premier, and that's been part of the part of the reintroduction that we've all had the ability to do. I mean, goodness, a former Transportation Minister put out a platform of “buck-a-ride,” that was probably the worst transit platform I've seen, including Jen Keesemaat said, “we thought about doing it last time, but it's not economically viable.” But, you know, far be it for me to get into a good slogan. It's almost as bad public policy as the abysmal tasting “buck-a-beer” was.

Martin Regg Cohn
Okay. So, let me try to reframe the question—and I'm glad that you took the shot at the media, because that allows me to reflect on to pollsters.

Kim Wright
You are their surrogate.

Martin Regg Cohn
I am, I am. But I want to reflect on the polling data, and just in good fun, just trying to dig down at what David did in terms of the breakdowns. And thank you for going beyond the horse race, and looking down at the track, at track level. So, what's interesting, okay, I tried about the decline in the overall number, and I recognize that there are geographic breakdowns, and that the overall popular vote is not a predictor of the seat count—and David wisely stays away from seat counts, because they're really tricky, and so do I. But let's just say for the sake of fairness, that that the NDP seat count might do significantly better than the overall polling numbers, if you'll agree.

Kim Wright
I absolutely agree.

Martin Regg Cohn
Okay. What I found interesting personally, and what I want to throw at our panelists of truth tellers, setting aside the surrogate mantle for a moment, is that when you look—nevermind the demographics, because we always look at demographics and geographics, the Southwest, the Ottawa, the North, and so on, and you don’t do the North. And I salute that, because the North is always a very small sample—I took you off the hook there. But what I found interesting was on the particular issues—and I'm not picking on the NDP, I'm picking on the pollster here—the NDP doesn't own a single issue in David's poll. So, not affordability, fine, not housing, not health care, not taxes. On David's poll, the Liberals are actually considered a better bet to fix healthcare than the other two parties, admittedly by a very small, very teeny percentage point. But on unions, we saw that slide that was very revealing. Any thoughts from anyone? I'm going to save you from the hot seat if you want, but maybe you can jump in. Why is the NDP having a hard time owning any of those issues? Normally the Tories own the economy, but on healthcare, which Michael Balagus, the Chief of Staff for Andrea Horvath has made a big priority as the leader, they've been hammering health care, hallway health care for five years now, right? Five-and-a-half years, they don't own that issue, so.

Kim Wright
And in fact, a premier ran last time on ending hallway medicine. But gosh, wouldn't that have been wonderful during the pandemic, if had that actually happened?

Martin Regg Cohn
Yeah, so what’s happened?

Kim Wright
It is a, there's lots of things that are out there, where she is speaking to people where they live. Her announcement on mental health and addictions that she launched a couple of weeks ago, where people can pay with their OHIP card, and not their credit card. While that sounds really pie in the sky, what it actually means is we're empowering more mental health professionals, more social workers, to be able to work in that field, but also getting outside of the very expensive going to therapy, that even people with insurance—we know from focus groups, and other places, and just people's experience—they may not want to go to a therapist and even put it on their insurance card, because they don't want their employers to find out they're going to therapy. The challenge with that is, then they end up doing infinitely more harm, and self-medicating. So, opening up those channels, and people being able to access therapy, getting out of some of the addictions problems that we're seeing across the province, those are the kinds of practical things they may not always show up. And I know David had them pretty low on his polling, but that's where people are living. And that may not show up on that top line horse race, but it is what's showing up on the doorstep.

Martin Regg Cohn
Okay. And I think we can all agree that that polling rankings can be very misleading. Traditionally—not this election—healthcare is always high up on an issue; it's never a vote determinant issue. I mean, now there's a pandemic, so it's different. So, environment often will show up, and people will pay lip service to the environment, but they won't pay out of their pocket for it. So, I accept that. But I was offering it to anybody. You don't have to.

Dennis Matthews
Maybe I can say, to answer your question, both positive and negative. You know, when you look at the cost of living and affordability issues, the Ford brand has been built on this over the last, you know, 10, 15 years, whatever it is here. And it almost sort of defies the day-to-day. I mean, the Ford government is spending more than any government in current Ontario history.

Martin Regg Cohn
Thank you.

Dennis Matthews
But if you if you stop somebody in the street and say, “who's managing the pennies and keeping costs under control?” There's a brand that the Ford family has built around that, to their credit, as has helped them on those views. On the negative side, I would say it is—and I'm sorry to say this—but it's a critique on the opposition parties, that they've been unable to take any of these issues and vault them up. So how do you do it though?

Martin Regg Cohn
Not for want of trying.

Dennis Matthews
No, but how do you do it? You do it on emotion, right? That is how during election campaigns, you get people whipped up. And I think part of the struggle is, a lot of emotion was whipped up during COVID, and people were very angry, and very frustrated, in particular healthcare and other things. And that emotion, that anger, it's just dissipated, it's gone. And you know, maybe you could say, “hey, have some foresight and plan for that.” Easier said than done, obviously. But, you know, we're in a scenario where that was where the emotion was, that's where the drivers were. That's gone now.

Martin Regg Cohn
I just need to interrupt for one second, a technology momen,t and remind everyone that if you do want to ask a question, unless you want me to keep hogging the questions, use the QR code. Thank you.

Kim Wright
So, one of the things it's also fascinating in this campaign....

Martin Regg Cohn
There’s a few.

Kim Wright
There's lots of things, but the Premier, to his—the smartest thing that the campaign has done, is not let Doug off the teleprompter, because every time Doug Ford has gotten off-teleprompter, it has been, well, an unmitigated disaster for the government. And so, that has been a challenge, and that's why you're seeing him not do scrums. I mean, coming out of that Northern Ontario debate, I mean, it was like watching Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner, it was a dust cloud out there, of him getting out of that. You'll also note, we made the joke about the binders, for those of you who weren't hearing about this earlier, is that the Premier will not go on to that debate stage next week without his binder of notes. He is so tightly scripted, because they know that the moment he is “let Doug be Doug,” it does not go well. And that's why many of you will remember that Raptors parade in Nathan Phillips Square, just over there, where he got roundly and soundly booed, and then cleaned house, and did the whole thing.

Martin Regg Cohn
Okay and that showed up in the polls, but that was two-and-a-half years ago.

Kim Wright
But that's why they won't let them off the script.

Martin Regg Cohn
And as I am paid to listen to Doug Ford, and when he's on the teleprompter, I can tell you that when he's off the teleprompter, he's not that bad anymore. He has improved. Colin over to you.

Colin MacDonald
I just think there's a couple, so one thing I didn't think we should lose track of, is David's number around the people who either, I think it was some version of don't know there's an election going on right now, or are just barely aware, and it was somewhere around 70% when combined, right? Huge percentage of the population isn't tuned in. Whether that's a result of some of the post-pandemic fatigue that that is out there, that's possible; whether that's because in Ontario, we typically don't pay as much attention to provincial politics, as we've talked about, until we get into campaigns, that's possible as well. So, I think there will be an opportunity for people to engage hopefully in a more—and I think we would all benefit from having more than 30% of the province pay attention to the fact there's an election campaign going on—so hopefully, there'll be an opportunity for people to engage.

Martin Regg Cohn
Let me ask you, as Dennis raised an interesting point, a little bit of the dark arts here when he talked about emotion, and we don't like to talk about that very much, but that often is a huge driver in decision making, and everything else. So, I want to circle back to what we started with, which is, all the politicians, if you listen to their daily conferences, news conferences, or kickoffs, it's now on livestream. You know, there's nobody there anymore, there’s two reporters. So, if you're watching this—if you’re paid to watch this as I am—they all say your choice is very important, you have a choice in this election, you have to choose. And what we're hearing from David, is that people don't want to choose change in large numbers, in a majority. Like, there's no question that only 38% to 40% are choosing Doug Ford, that means, 60% to 62% are not, but they're not really choosing change in anything like the numbers as before. I'd like to ask all three to comment on that, the change election, or the absence thereof. Admitting that it's early days.

Colin MacDonald
So yeah, so I think what we're seeing, is that people are broadly fatigued, first of all, I think people are a little bit tired of the whole thing. I think they need to be presented with a reason and a rationale for change. I think that's what each of the campaigns, frankly—the Tories are going to try and tell them it's not necessary, and the NDP and the Liberals are going to tell them this is all the reasons why, and it's going to take time to build that out for them. I also think that the opposition parties have a job to do, and certainly are going to take their best effort at doing it, to convince people that this doesn't have to be a two—you know, there's no rule that says you have to get two shots, two kick the can. You don't have to give the Tories a free pass on the last two years, because they had to deal with the global pandemic. The reality is, that they dealt with the global pandemic really poorly. So, we have to evaluate that, right? The absolutely best performance Doug Ford and his government had during the pandemic, was that first four or five month window, where they appeared to abdicate all decision making responsibility to professionals. As soon as the Premier started stepping back in, and making decisions, and making concessions to this group and that group, and decided he was going to go over on this, and turn tail on that, it all became a mess. I mean, ask any parent in this room, any parent in the province will tell you how much of a mess it became. So, there are no concessions for the last two years. There's no do over. And people need to be reminded of that, they need to be reminded how they felt two years ago, and what they don't want to be feeling like in two years from now.

Martin Regg Cohn
Dennis, I'm going to skip you, because I want to skip to some questions, and you've already gave us your clue answer. Kim, very quickly, don't tell us why we need change, tell us why it's not catching on?

Kim Wright
Well, I'd say in this room, in Toronto, there's a lot of people watching a hockey game right about now. So, there's a lot of things that are happening. But look, there's a very interesting thing that's also happening in a lot of other parts of Ontario, and we're not going to see it here in Toronto, but it is the undercurrent of the new Blue Party. And in some places, especially in rural Southern Ontario, that three, four or five percent, in various ridings like Chatham-Kent—Leamington, they're going to be difference-makers, and we're not going to see, you know, Jim on a debate stage—although that would just be an agent of chaos that I'm here for—but it's going to be a big challenge undercurrent. We saw this in the last Ontario election, where the Randy Hilliers, and the SO-Cons, really did go and save Doug's campaign last time. Many of those who have gone into that new blue portal, do they show up to vote? Can they sustain that anger? The other part is, there's still a lot of people who remember Doug Ford standing up there and repeatedly saying, “we're going to put an iron ring around long-term care,” and the only thing we saw were more hearses coming up to the long-term care facilities.

QUESTION & ANSWER

Martin Regg Cohn
Okay, let's, I’m going to shake things up a little bit, I'm going to go to the questions. There's a mischievous question on the floor that I want, that comes from an anonymous person—thank you, by the way. I'm going to mix it up a little bit, because the question is the following. Does any party have any wannabe leaders waiting in the wings? If so, do tell. Now I'm going to double the mischief by not asking the surrogates, I'm going to ask the others to talk about the other parties. So, Colin, why don't you, you made a monte McNaughton crack, you tell us about—there's a clue—you tell us about the surrogates waiting in the wings for the Tories, if it's a bad day on June 2nd for Doug Ford.

Colin MacDonald
Oh wow, I mean, I think that's a really difficult one.

Martin Regg Cohn
You gave me one answer with Monte.

Colin MacDonald
I mean, I think there's the obvious ones, right? There's Monte, there's Ms. Mulrooney, there's probably a few more that are obvious. Maybe, you know, Mr. Bethlenfalvy comes to mind, and maybe a couple who've recently left might make a miraculous return. But it's really tough to run for leader of a Conservative Party these days, because you have to make a bunch of decisions about who you're going to be, and how you're going to be it, and how you're going to change from that to the thing that's next. I don't envy people who decide they want to run for leader of the Conservative Party.

Martin Regg Cohn
Okay. Dennis, you can now retaliate, and who's waiting in the wings for Steven Del Duca, if he has a bad day on June 2nd?

Dennis Matthews
Yeah, I mean, I think that who's waiting in the wings is more that the party made a choice to go for relative stability in a time of, you know, a complete rebuild, going with a familiar face. And you know, that came with some benefits, I think, in terms of paying off debt, rebuilding the party, whatnot; it's come with significant downsides in a general election campaign, when you're trying to introduce somebody who, once they know something about them, “oh, you're a part of the old thing.” And so, I think there will be a tremendous push for somebody from the outside, whether that’s a Federal Liberal looking to come in to the province, the Chrystia Freeland types or others, someone like that, or is it somebody who's just never been part of the establishment before?

Martin Regg Cohn
Tell us who's going to replace Andrea Horvath, if she has a bad day on June 2?

Dennis Matthews
That, I wouldn't be the worst person to tell you that. What I will say is...

Colin MacDonald
She’s got four more elections.

Dennis Matthews
The party has seemingly been kind of behind her. So maybe, maybe still there.

Martin Regg Cohn
Kim, you have the right of reply, because it was two against one. Go ahead. Who’s going to replace Andrea Horvath, if she decides to step down?

Kim Wright
After her three terms as Premier?

Martin Regg Cohn
Yes.

Kim Wright
Different conversation entirely.

Martin Regg Cohn
Okay.

Kim Wright
Look, I think on the Liberal side, I think Jeff Lehman from Barrie, if he wins his seat, the Mayor of Barrie, is definitely chomping at the bit. Don't underestimate, again, if she wins, Kate Graham, who came in second in the last campaign, she ran a formidable campaign. Again, she's got to win her seat in London. And then, you know, Conservative land, I mean, I guess he's technically running for the Conservative leadership federally, but never underestimate Patrick Brown in his always returning.

Martin Regg Cohn
I like that answer. Okay. Is the fact that this is a short election, 29 days, mean the opposition does not have time? We're already a week in. That question is from Jim Murphy.

Kim Wright
It's a fixed election, like that's part about this that, you know, every party knew this was coming, whether we wanted it to or not. Now, there's a challenge, of course, when we've got an overlap of also the municipal elections happening—shoutout to Brad Bradford—but look, there's lots of things that are happening, but lots of things can happen in the next 21 days that we’re out.

Martin Regg Cohn
Colin, what do you think?

Colin MacDonald
No, I don't think it's necessarily a disadvantage. I think that the job is still the same. They had time to start, they've got time to sell, and now they've got to close the deal. So I think the job is the same.

Martin Regg Cohn
Okay, this is for everyone. What is the one issue that could change the outcome of the election?

Colin MacDonald
The Premier.

Martin Regg Cohn
Okay.

Colin MacDonald
Like, I think if you had to pick one thing that could just happen, I think the Premier could happen.

Dennis Matthews
Yeah, I think we're in the world now—and I'll agree with Colin, here—we're in the world now where the only thing that can change something is something so dramatic involving one of the candidates. I mean, you can easily say fourth the most likely, but of the three, like one of them, something big happening to one of the three.

Martin Regg Cohn
Okay. Kim?

Kim Wright
Yeah, no, absolutely. Doug going off-script.

Martin Regg Cohn
And what about COVID resurgence, as remote as that might seem right now.

Kim Wright
It is, absolutely. But the benefit of doing a summer election.

Colin MacDonald
I think COVID’s gotta be baked in at this point to your voting intention. Like you can't, you're gonna all of a sudden now be upset about COVID? Like that's....

Martin Regg Cohn
All right. Here's a trick question. What's the future of Steven Lecce? Anonymous. Anonymous teacher? No, anonymous. What's the future of Steven Lecce?

Dennis Matthews
That's a risky one.

Colin MacDonald
I think, you know what, I think honest answer is, I think he probably has a really terrible a couple of weeks. I think he probably comes through—assuming he wins, I won’t pretend to prognosticate whether he wins his election, his seat or not—but I think he's gonna have a pretty uncomfortable, and pretty terrible couple of weeks, and then we'll move beyond this.

Dennis Matthews
Yeah, I mean, look, he's speaking for himself, but, you know, what I will say is, a lot of people have gone through these kinds of things. And, you know, when you take a look at somebody like him, and you take a look at the cabinet in general—like, I think you're gonna see a different cabinet afterwards, like, I don't think you'll see all the ministers coming back to their same portfolios, you know, regardless of the outcome here. But, you know, Stephen Lecce’s friend of mine, I worked with him in the Harper Prime Minister's Office.

Martin Regg Cohn
That’s right, you did.

Dennis Matthews
And you know, I’ll just say like, you know, obviously, he's apologized, and let's just see where he goes.

Martin Regg Cohn
Okay. Kim?

Kim Wright
I bet you Stephen Lecce is very grateful for the candidates from Parry Sound—Muskoka, and Sault Sainte Marie who got into more trouble in the Liberal Party than he got into yesterday.

Martin Regg Cohn
Okay. And he's unlikely to come back because Education Minister, I think we'll agree?

Kim Wright
Probably not.

Colin MacDonald
I think it's not even worth going in specifics. I think you're looking at a bigger change, you know, regardless of what happens here.

Martin Regg Cohn
Yeah.

Kim Wright
Well, we're not putting him in cabinet.

Martin Regg Cohn
Side note, Stephen Lecce has been trying to not be Education Minister for a couple of years, because it's a very difficult job, when you have 140,000 unionized teachers coming at you. Oh, yes, also anonymous—playing it safe here—are Ontarians really happy with Ford? Or are they not happy with the alternatives? Let's go to Colin first.

Colin MacDonald
Can I answer as anonymous? I think Ontarians are—so I'm not saying this to be provocative, I'm just, someone's asked the question—so I think Ontarians that aren't by now persuaded by Miss Horvath, are unhappy with Miss Horvath. We've made jokes about anyone else, but she's had enough time to introduce herself. Either you're interested at this point or not. I think Ontarians don't yet know Stephen Del Duca, largely just don't yet know him, and so, they haven't yet decided if they don't like him or not. And I think we've seen that Mr. Ford has people who really, really like him. Like, he's got a really strong following. There's some people who probably have thought, well, you know, what, it's not as bad as I thought it was going to be, and then there's a bunch of people that are really not a fan.

Martin Regg Cohn
So, he scared people in the at the outset, and then he just said, “just kidding, I'm actually a nicer guy,” and so he's exceeded expectations.

Colin MacDonald
Under promise, and I wouldn’t say he over delivered, but at least under promise.

Dennis Matthews
And to be honest, the question, I'd say like, it's not, these aren't referendums. Like, this is a choice, right? It's not, “do I like this guy or not?” It's, “okay, so now, I've got to look at these people, and who do I want?” And, you know, I think we're, you know, we're sitting here—again, we can laugh about the binder or whatever else, but like, there are a lot of people in this province who actually like Premier Ford. And I was saying to somebody on the walk over here, if you take Ford off the ballot, the Conservative Party is going to be at 32%, 33%; he's the reason the party is at 38%, 39%. You know, he's one of those rare leaders who brings in a coalition outside of what the party normally has. And so, you know, I think there are a lot of people in this province, obviously, like, who don't like a lot of politicians, Ford included, but like there's a there's a fan group there. There are people who, those voters who are voting for Justin Trudeau, and then are showing up to vote for Doug Ford—and there's probably none of those people in this room, but that's not the kind of crowd we would have here—but like those people exist in relative large numbers.

Martin Regg Cohn
But if he's but if he's a different politician, a different personality, let's say, broadly speaking than he was four years ago, campaigning on different issues, it's not “buck-a-beer,” it's highways, and it's a higher minimum wage, after blasting the minimum wage four years ago, albeit much lower. Is it the same coalition?

Dennis Matthews
Well, so there's been a gigantic reset button pushed in politics in general, which is, you know, why even for Horvath, I'll give her this, there is an opportunity to introduce yourself, given that people are looking at everything differently. But I think some of the building blocks of this change coalition were sort of part of the Ford DNA before, it’s just the Conservative Party had too much baggage to capitalize on it. And, they sort of been able to the last couple of years here.

Martin Regg Cohn
Okay. Kim?

Kim Wright
Even looking at the unionized labour numbers, and the non-unionized labour, there has been such a massive shift from, you know, the days of action under the Harris years, to now. And in particular, during COVID, conversations around vaccine mandates, and lock downs, all of this has changed a lot of people's thought processes about their politics, what they thought they believed, where they thought their tribes were. And there's a big shift, and then we're even seeing that, you know, again, going back to the New Blues, and some of those other coalitions within there, I mean, all of this is a big shift and reset. And in a place where people have, I mean, there's also a bit of people get bored a little too easily, about issues, about politics, they move on to the next item, even things that are catastrophic, that were leading the news, that five days later people are like, “okay, can we talk about something else now?” And so, there's a bit of a shift that happens with that, and I think that's a challenge that we see, regardless of the length of time of an election period.

Martin Regg Cohn
Dennis, I have one quick question for you. For months, or two-and-a-half years, in fact. I've heard New Democrats and Tories say that people aren't going to, like people don't like Del Duca, and they're not gonna like him, women don't like him, and, you know, doesn't do well and focus groups, and so on. And yet, the numbers that we saw from David's polling, show him coming from behind; the spread between him and Andrea Horvath is just a few points on certain measures. And so he doesn't seem to be a disaster yet. Is it just because he's being buffed up by federal/provincial crossover? I mean, this province voted massively Liberal in the last federal election, and there were only five NDP seats. So, what's going on with Del Duca?

Dennis Matthews
Well, I think it's fair to say, as somebody who studies politics and follows it, and take a step back from my partisanship for a minute, you know, the Liberal brand has an extremely strong one in in this province.

Martin Regg Cohn
And Del Duca’s not undermining it?

Dennis Matthews
Well, I think that's where we're sort of seeing it, I mean, Del Duca’s going through a bit of a speed-dating process with the with the public. Like there's a there's a, you know, a reflex of vote Liberal, that maybe sits at, I don't know, 20% or something like that, on any given day, even on their on their worst day. And so, his mission is sort of building on top of that, right? And we'll see, come election day, but it's a speed-dating process. And I yeah, I mean, I've seen focus group comments, and other things, too. I mean, he's got some real, like, significant challenges, both tied to the past, and just sort of the conduct, and how he presents himself.

Martin Regg Cohn
Okay. But we're not seeing a collapse, the collapse that everyone's predicted?

Dennis Matthews
No.

Martin Regg Cohn
Okay. Very quickly to Colin—because you're standing in the way of drinks and socializing, so this is a speed-dating answer.

Dennis Matthews
No pressure.

Colin MacDonald
Yeah, generous of you. Now, I just think, listen, anybody who’s watched Stephen Del Duca on the campaign trail over the last week, if they didn't know anything about him before, except for the negative things that they had been told, through some advertising that they had watched, would see what they're looking at, see a man who is incredibly competent, good on his feet, and has a grasp of the issues where he goes from—you know, we always talk about folks who work in government talk about how the Premier and the Minister of Finance tend to always be the ones who can, in question period, they can take anything, right? Because they just have that kind of scope of government understanding. Steven Del Duca, based on his experience, and his time in and around the place, he just knows the stuff. He's got it in him, right? So, he can move from issue to issue, from policy to policy, and people who are willing to give him an honest shot are seeing that when they tune in, and I think a lot of them, as we've seen from the numbers, are starting to starting to like him.

Martin Regg Cohn
Okay, time’s up, speed dating is up. I want to thank my fellow panelists for putting up with my harassment, and you've all been good sports, so thank you for that. And I'm going to hand it back to Kelly. Thanks, everyone.

Kelly Jackson
Thank you, you can, you know, take your seats. Yeah. I don't think I've ever been more conscious of having a binder than right now. I'd like to take the opportunity to invite Jan Westcott, the President and CEO of Spirits Canada, to deliver some appreciation remarks.

Note of Appreciation by Jan Westcott, President & CEO, Spirits Canada
Thanks, Kelly. So, when I was told that I was going to be the thanking you people, they said, “you have two minutes.” What they didn't say was that, as the head of the Spirits business in Canada, you're delaying people getting to the bar. So, I'm going to be very brief. So, great presentation, David; terrific, I really enjoyed that. Panelists, Kim, Dennis, and Colin, insightful comments. And it's great to see you needling other people from time to time, you should do it more often. Thank you very much. It was a great evening. I really enjoyed it. I hope we all got some nuggets out of it. And good to see all of you. Thank you.

Concluding Remarks by Kelly Jackson
Thank you, Jan, and thank you again to Spirits Canada, and all of our sponsors for their support. Thank you, of course, to our panelists, and to our presenter, David, and our moderator, Martin. Our next virtual event is going to be on Thursday, June 2nd, at 12 Noon. It's going to be the latest in our “Fuel for Thought” event series, which is in partnership with the Canadian Fuels Association. We're going to be joined by a panel of industry experts, to discuss how emerging policies will affect Canadians, and specifically Canadian drivers, in terms of the low-carbon future. More details and registration information can be found at Empire club of canada.com. We're also going to be holding a couple of great in-person events in June as well, and we'll be releasing information about that next week, so take a look for those as well. I want to thank everybody for joining us today. Please feel free to stay and chat, and, you know, you can meet all the panelists as well, even though they're out of the hot seats, I'm sure they won't mind. I wish everybody a great evening. Take care and stay safe.

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In the Thick of It: Unpacking the 2022 Ontario Provincial Election


May 12, 2022 In the Thick of It: Unpacking the 2022 Ontario Provincial Election