spring, is election on hold?|
If the Conservatives' own polls are anything like the
one published in today's Toronto Star, the next provincial election won't
be called any time soon.
Indeed, it could well be put off until the fall.
The numbers in today's EKOS poll, commissioned by the Star, are
very bad for the governing Tories. In terms of popular support, they have
dropped since January from 36 per cent to 34 per cent, while the
opposition Liberals have gone up from 49 per cent to 53 per cent.
Put another way, the gap between the two parties has widened from
13 percentage points to 19 points.
And that's after three months of government ads and announcements
aimed at shoring up Tory support while the Legislature (the opposition's
platform) has been in recess.
There is other bad news for the Tories in the body of the EKOS
not get the traditional "bounce" from last week's budget, the venue of
which (an auto-parts facility rather than the Legislature) overshadowed
the content. Just 21 per cent of respondents thought the budget was
"good;" as many thought it was "poor." In comparison, the public rated the
federal budget in February, which was presented in Parliament, as "good"
by a two-to-one margin.
under Premier Ernie Eves are losing their reputations as good managers of
the province's finances and the economy. For example, just 36 per cent
rated Eves as the best leader for dealing with "provincial debt and public
finances" compared with 31 per cent who preferred Liberal Leader Dalton
McGuinty for the task. In the run-up to the 1999 election, Eves'
predecessor, Mike Harris, scored a staggering 82 per cent on this question
compared with just 5 per cent for McGuinty.
centrepiece issue on which the Tories had planned to run their re-election
campaign was more tax cuts. But today's poll shows that 13 per cent of the
public favour that option as opposed to 68 per cent who want more spending
on social programs like health and education (McGuinty's preference).
Conservative insiders were chortling earlier this year when
McGuinty pronounced himself as firmly opposed to more tax cuts. They saw
it as a politically suicidal move by the Liberal leader.
But if today's poll is accurate, McGuinty will have the last laugh.
One must, of course, make allowances for some lying on this
question by the respondents, who might feel that social spending is the
politically correct answer even though, in the secrecy of the ballot
booth, they will opt for tax cuts.
Prior to the 1999 provincial election, in response to the same
question, 55 per cent favoured social spending (McGuinty's preference,
then as now) compared with 21 per cent for tax cuts (Harris' platform).
But Harris still beat McGuinty in the election.
What is significant, however, is that the gap between support for
tax cuts and for social spending has widened since then from 34 per cent
to 55 per cent.
The bottom line: The Tories are in danger of losing their "brand"
as good economic managers and, to the extent that they retain it, they are
on the wrong track (tax cuts).
The poll is not all bad for the government, however. There is some
good news, including:
Conservative vote is firmer, with 76 per cent of their supporters saying
it is "unlikely" they would change their minds compared with 63 per cent
for the Liberals.
measure — the property tax credit for seniors — is proving to be popular,
with 60 per cent supporting it and just 17 per cent against. The Liberals
may have trouble sustaining their opposition to it.
Eves is on
solid ground in criticizing the federal government for not joining the
Americans in the war against Iraq. Some 47 per cent of Ontarians think we
should be fighting with the Americans. While 43 per cent are opposed to
the war, their votes will be split between the Liberals and the New
But these silver linings cannot drive away the dark cloud of the
overall poll, which suggests a crushing defeat for the Conservatives in
the coming election.
The Conservatives have time on their side, of course. The fourth
anniversary of the 1999 election is June 3, but they can decide to wait
longer while they address their weaknesses.
The expectation is that the throne speech on April 30 will be
packed with "wedge issues" aimed at breaking off chunks of Liberal
support. That will likely be followed by a legislative session of a few
weeks' duration featuring government goodies.
Then the election could be called in late May for late June. Or, if
the poll numbers are still bad, the Tories could wait until the fall.
With delay comes risks, of course, which I listed in last
Saturday's column: an economic downturn; a spate of negative media stories
about the government "hanging on to power;" hydro brownouts; and a West
Here's one more: The trial in the Ipperwash civil lawsuit is due to
begin Sept. 8. Senior Tory campaign officials are expected to be
subpoenaed to testify.
Did I hear anyone say an election in 2004?
articles by Ian Urquhart