By this time next week, Ontarians may have a better idea whether or not they will head to the polls this spring. Most would prefer not to.
Wrangling between Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and NDP leader Andrea Horwath continues but with Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak already ruling out supporting the Liberal budget, it will be up to Horwath to decide whether or not to keep the minority government afloat.
A poll conducted late last week by Forum Research and published by the Toronto Star showed only 41 per cent of Ontarians think an election should be held, against 53 per cent who think otherwise. That is, however, the highest level of pro-election sentiment Forum has recorded since Wynne became Liberal leader at the end of January.
Horwath has a difficult decision to make. The poll also suggested the New Democrats trailed Liberals and Tories by 10 points in voting intentions, with 25 per cent to 35 per cent for the two frontrunners. And 48 per cent of Ontarians, including 44 per cent of NDP supporters, want Horwath to vote for the Liberal budget and prevent an election. That is more than the 36 per cent of Ontarians and 39 per cent of NDP voters who think she should not support the budget.
The budget itself met many demands the New Democrats had made, but Horwath has nevertheless asked for more in the creation of a budget watchdog. The NDP leader is hoping to wring as much as possible out of the Liberal government in order to emphasize the influence the party has in the minority legislature. If the premier acquiesces, it will make it all the easier for the NDP to support the budget, rather than having to vote in favour of it as is — even if it was partially crafted by the NDP’s requests.
Horwath has refused to meet the premier until a consultation process her party has set up comes to a close next week. If the NDP does end up keeping the government afloat, the process gives Horwath the ability to claim she is merely responding to the people’s wishes. That is far better than being perceived as overly concerned about her own party’s survival or seen as propping up the Liberals.
The polls do suggest that Horwath is not in as ideal a position as she has been in the recent past. Though her approval ratings remain higher than either the premier or Hudak, Wynne has been hovering at around 40 per cent since the end of March – the kind of numbers needed to have a hope of re-election. And the Forum poll suggested that Wynne and Horwath are almost even in terms of likeability and trustworthiness. The edge has to go to Wynne, however, as she is seen as the best person to handle the economy by 30 per cent of Ontarians, compared to Hudak’s 26 per cent and Horwath’s 15 per cent.
The New Democrats are still riding higher in the polls than where they stood on election night in 2011, so it seems likely that the NDP is not in any grave danger of losing ground if a new vote is held. But if that vote installs either Hudak or Wynne in the premier’s office with a majority government, the influence the NDP has been able to hold over the Liberals will disappear.
That may not be worth a few extra seats in the legislature.
Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.
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