With Ontario New Democrats now pledging to pass the minority Liberal government’s budget, voters in the province have been spared an election — at least for the next few months.
A new poll by Ipsos-Reid for CTV and CP24 suggests the New Democrats were not in a strong position to force the province into a snap vote. The online survey of 1,772 Ontarians found Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals and Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives tied at 34 per cent apiece, with Andrea Horwath’s NDP trailing at 26 per cent.
More worrying for Horwath is the trend: since Ipsos-Reid was last in the field in mid-April, the NDP has slipped three points, as have the Tories. The Liberals are up six.
While the tie might have given Hudak pause in his push to replace the Liberal government, a deeper look at the numbers suggests the PCs could have an intrinsic advantage. Liberals were ahead among voters between the ages of 18 and 54, but the Progressive Conservatives had a 16-point lead among Ontarians 55 or older. As the election results in British Columbia have recently demonstrated, gauging the intentions of actual voters is the real challenge for pollsters — and older people tend to vote in greater numbers.
On the other hand, the Ipsos-Reid poll found that 36 per cent agreed that the “Wynne Government has done a good job and deserves re-election.” In a close three-way race, that may be enough to win.
Nevertheless, the NDP’s budget support is certainly a reprieve for Wynne as the numbers are close enough to put every party’s electoral chances in doubt. The government will survive into the summer, but Ontarians may have already headed to the polls by this time next year. With a minority government at Queen’s Park, the Liberals are one confidence motion away from defeat this autumn. And the potential for a showdown over tax increases to pay for new public transport infrastructure in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Region will come to a head by next spring at the latest.
But with the government safe for the time being, the focus turns to the impending by-elections in the southwestern Ontario ridings of London West and Windsor-Tecumseh. They will apparently be called after the budget is passed. As the two seats were formerly occupied by Liberals, the government will not be able to secure a majority by winning them as they could have done in Kitchener-Waterloo last year. Liberals finished a distant third in that contest, an outcome they will want to avoid repeating.
The two by-elections should be competitive, with London West potentially a three-way race and Windsor-Tecumseh a close NDP-Liberal battle. Grits will have a tough fight on their hands, as in addition to losing their incumbency advantage the party has taken a hit in the region. Ipsos-Reid pegs Liberal support at only 25 per cent in southwestern Ontario, compared to 34 per cent for the NDP and 35 per cent for the Tories. That represents a swing of roughly 10 points between the Liberals and the NDP since the 2011 election, which alone has the potential to move Windsor-Tecumseh into the NDP’s column and the Liberals behind the PCs in London West.
The by-elections will be Kathleen Wynne’s first electoral test as leader of the Ontario Liberals. If she holds on to the seats she might give her opposition adversaries second thoughts about pulling the plug later this year. If she loses one or both of them, they may smell blood in the water come the fall.
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.