01/24/2012 08:14 EST

Tim Hudak's Tories Open Up Lead Over Dalton McGuinty's Liberals In Ontario


It has been little more than three months since the last vote was held in Ontario, but already the pendulum has swung back in Tim Hudak’s favour. The good news for Premier Dalton McGuinty, however, is that Hudak has squandered an advantage before.

In a new Forum Research poll released by the Toronto Star over the weekend, the Progressive Conservatives were pegged at 41 per cent support to 33 per cent for the Liberals, turning the narrow two-point Liberal lead on election night into an eight-point edge for the Tories.

McGuinty’s Liberals are governing with a minority and an election could be forced at any time. But with the New Democrats seemingly content to keep the Liberals in power for the time being, the odds that Hudak will have an opportunity to cash-in on his current bout of popularity appear low.

There is little incentive for Andrea Horwath to pull the plug on the Liberal government.

Though Horwath's approval rating is far higher than either of her two adversaries (40 per cent, with only 28 per cent disapproving), the New Democrats hit only 20 per cent in this poll, down three points since the election. And while having positive personal numbers is always a good thing heading into an election campaign, Horwath was already head and shoulders above McGuinty and Hudak when Ontarians last went to the polls. Though it gave her NDP a boost in seats, it did not result in the kind of breakthrough that the New Democrats managed in the federal election thanks to the popularity of the late Jack Layton.

More importantly, a lead of this size would hand Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives a majority government and remove the bargaining power the New Democrats currently hold over the Liberal minority.

Faced with reducing Ontario’s deficit, this may be the only ace Dalton McGuinty can play. Cuts to the public service, education and health care risk pushing Liberal supporters to the New Democrats, who are generally seen to be stronger on these issues than the Tories. But though that might result in some NDP gains, the party could be set further back by ushering in a Hudak majority.

The last time the Progressive Conservatives held a lead of this size was in July 2011. Three months later, the Liberals won their third consecutive election. That should serve as a lesson for the Tories as the party prepares for a convention in February. While PC prospects look good going forward, there will always be the risk that they will repeat the mistakes of the last campaign.

But with the previous vote having taken place only a few months ago and the NDP unlikely to give up its key position in the legislature, it appears that Tim Hudak will not be tested again just yet.

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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