POLITICS
05/06/2014 12:23 EDT | Updated 05/06/2014 12:59 EDT

Ontario Election 2014: Wynne's Liberals Hope To Win By Veering Left

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Kathleen Wynne's Liberals took a calculated risk with last week's Ontario budget. By veering sharply to the left, the party hoped they could get the NDP's support to get it passed.

If not, they hoped they could instead get the NDP's supporters on the campaign trail.

It is certainly a gamble. The budget, which now becomes the Liberal electoral platform, included a lot of spending and a new Ontario pension plan. The government's proposals certainly fit in with Wynne's activist style, so there is little reason to doubt its sincerity. But at the same time, the move to the left is an electoral strategy that may or may not pay dividends.

The Ontario Liberals are calculating that they have more to gain on their left flank than they do on the right. Those voters may have locked their ballots in with Tim Hudak's Progressive Conservatives already. In any case, a swing to the right by Wynne would come off as inauthentic, a recipe for disaster in a tight campaign.

Instead, Liberals hope to pluck voters from the New Democrats. At first glance, it seems like it could work.

Polls have suggested the NDP is sliding back to 2011 levels of support, and away from the 30 per cent the party was enjoying when Dalton McGuinty's government was at its nadir. But in trying to get NDP supporters into their tent, the Liberals may push centrist voters out.

In 2011, McGuinty was largely successful in casting himself as the steady hand at the centre of the political spectrum. But much has changed since 2011. The gas plant scandal, a complicated story to follow in its nuances, is easy enough to understand as a colossal waste of money. The government's handling of the issue after the fact has hardly improved matters.

Those homeless centrist voters who cast their ballot for the Liberals to block Hudak's Tories in 2011 may now consider the PCs the lesser of two evils. Elections are primarily won in the centre. In this campaign, the centre is a gaping hole.

One would expect the PCs to fill that vacuum and easily romp to victory. The Liberals have been in power for almost 11 years, the natural lifespan of most governments in Canada. Instead, the Tories will have a difficult campaign of their own.

Hudak remains the most unpopular leader of the three vying for the premier's office. His instincts point not to the centre but rather to the right, and even after the latest disgrace, he still could not bring himself to denounce Rob Ford for fear of alienating a voter base that has no other option. If he wins this election, it may very well be despite himself.

New Democrats are hoping to benefit from a wave of Liberal rejection, but the polls have not yet suggested this to be in the cards. If the Liberals and NDP propose the same general solutions to Ontario's problems, voters could choose to support either the "real" NDP or the Liberals, who have the better chance of forming government.

The biggest obstacle the three party leaders may have to overcome, however, is lack of interest. A majority of eligible voters did not bother to cast a ballot in 2011, and there is little reason to believe that engagement is likely to spike.

Voters in the centre may feel abandoned. Voters angry with the government over the gas plant scandal may stay home rather than vote for either opposition party. In a province that has always struggled more than most to get people to the polls, this election may set new lows.

Let's hope not.

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers every week. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.

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