The survey, conducted by Forum Research for the Toronto Star and CP24 last week, found the Ontario Liberals at 33 per cent support, down five points since the end of May. The Tories picked up an insignificant single point, but moved ahead of the Liberals with 35 per cent. New Democrats were up slightly to 24 per cent support.
This is the first time Liberals have trailed the PCs in any poll since mid-April. They had been polling at around 35 to 38 per cent support since then, while the Tories have been stuck around 34 to 36 per cent for the last few months. But the drop in Liberal support has not corresponded with an equal gain for the PCs — instead the New Democrats and Greens have benefited.
In fact, Hudak’s approval ratings have been stagnant for a very long time. At only 26 per cent approval to 53 per cent disapproval, Hudak trails his two opponents by a wide margin. And those numbers have not budged despite the change of leadership in the premier’s office.
Again, it is a matter of slipping Liberal support that has put the Tories in a better position. Wynne’s approval rating fell to 37 per cent against 43 per cent disapproval, marking the first time that her net rating has been so negative. Since taking over from Dalton McGuinty, Wynne had a net positive or virtually even approval rating. NDP leader Andrea Horwath, at 43 per cent approval to 35 per cent disapproval, has consistently put up the best numbers over the last year.
Barring a non-confidence motion put forward by the opposition, the province is not expected to go into an election campaign until at least next spring’s budget. The Tories would be justified to head into a new campaign with some confidence, as they hold a small lead in the polls and good numbers in rural Ontario and the 905 area code. Hudak is also better positioned among older Ontarians who head out to the polls in greater numbers, with reasonable expectations to double his lead over Liberals due to turnout alone.
But for such a campaign to come about, Hudak would need the NDP to withdraw their tenuous support of the Liberal government. While Ontarians seem to be warming up to another vote — for the first time since Wynne became OLP leader, the proportion of Ontarians who say they do not want a new election has fallen below 50 per cent — NDP voters would still prefer not to call a new election. Forty-three per cent of NDP supporters agreed another election should be called, while 50 per cent disagreed.
With a province-wide vote a little further down the road, the parties can instead focus on the round of byelections to be called throughout the province. This poll by Forum Research suggests Tories might have a hope for a pick-up in McGuinty’s old riding of Ottawa South. A poll specific to the riding did give the PCs a small edge, but this wider provincial survey showed Liberals plummeting in eastern Ontario to only 25 per cent — well below where they stood in the region on election night in 2011. While it won’t put Hudak in the premier’s office, it might do as a moral victory to get him through to next year.
Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers each week. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.