Apr. 5, 2003
Hamilton Spectator / Ted Brellisford
Ontario Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty
Liberals set for a massive majority?
Poll shows party would win power with solid 53%

CAROLINE MALLAN
QUEEN'S PARK BUREAU CHIEF

The Ontario Liberals would win a massive majority government if a provincial election were held now, a Star poll released April 5 shows.

The EKOS Research Associates survey, conducted for the Star, gauged public opinion of the Tory government in the days following Premier Ernie Eves' decision to present the March 27 budget speech at an auto parts training centre in Brampton instead of the Legislature.

The poll indicates that if an election were held tomorrow, the opposition Liberals under leader Dalton McGuinty would win the support of 53 per cent of decided voters a full 19-point lead over the Conservatives with 34 per cent of the decided vote.

The NDP under leader Howard Hampton has 11 per cent of the vote. Two per cent of decided voters say they will vote for another party such as the Greens or the Family Coalition Party.

Twenty-eight per cent of those polled were undecided.

EKOS interviewed 703 adults Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. Results from a survey of that size are considered accurate within 3.7 percentage points 19 times in 20.

"The Progressive Conservatives have to go back to the drawing board with respect to election timing and policy commitments," said EKOS executive director Christian Boucher.

There has been speculation that Eves will call an election this spring. The government has spent a lot of money on campaign-style advertising; leaked plans to the media to spend even more money on election-type promises; and the Premier delayed the start of the Legislature from March 17 to April 30.

In the 1999 election, the Tories under former Premier Mike Harris won 45.1 per cent of the vote, the Liberals 39.8 per cent and the NDP 12.6 per cent. In the 103-seat Legislature, the Tories have 56 seats, the Liberals 36, the NDP 9. There is one independent and one vacancy.

Eves could theoretically wait until 2004 to call an election but would face charges that he was heading a desperate government clinging by its fingertips to power. Elections in Ontario are traditionally every four years.

Of those who said they clearly recalled the budget, 64 per cent said they opposed the decision to hold the budget speech at the Brampton auto parts plant. And one in three people who would vote for the Tories said they opposed the odd location.

Not only does the poll portray a negative over-all reaction to last week's budget because of the unconventional location, it shows that some of the Tory messages that were key to their success under Harris are no longer sticking with voters.

Specifically, the tax-cuts message is losing steam, replaced by a desire for more spending on health and education both key components of the Liberal party's message.

"Tax cuts have less traction that in 1999," said Boucher. "After seven years (the Tories began tax cutting when they were elected in 1995) people are ready to hear more about social spending."

He said if the Tories plan to craft their platform for an election around more tax cuts, it will not resonate with voters.

"If they are running on tax cuts, it's not clear that it's going to be as effective as it was in 1995 or 1999."

The poll found that 68 per cent of voters are looking for social spending ahead of debt reduction and tax measures. Only 17 per cent picked debt reduction as their priority, while just 13 per cent say tax cuts are their priority.

And that number, says Boucher, is especially significant since it crosses party lines meaning that even a majority of core Tory supporters are looking for health and education money, not tax relief.

Perhaps even more disturbing for the Tories is Eves' plunging personal approval ratings in areas that were previously impregnable by the opposition.

For example, when voters were asked which of the three party leaders they had the most confidence in when it comes to tax cuts, Eves held only a slight lead over Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty, with 34 per cent picking Eves and 31 per cent saying McGuinty.

Comparing those numbers to 1999, Harris was chosen by 79 per cent of voters as the leader they trusted the most on the tax-cut front.

Similarly, when asked which leader could best handle Ontario's finances and debt, 36 per cent picked Eves and 31 per cent chose McGuinty (only 8 per cent chose Hampton). In 1999, when asked that same question, 82 per cent of respondents chose Harris, compared to just 5 per cent who picked McGuinty.





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