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2018 Ontario Election Debrief

Published on
June 8, 2018

Welcome to Ford Nation.

In a result that was not surprising for who won, but rather for its size and magnitude, Doug Ford and his Progressive Conservative Party won a majority government yesterday.  Seats and popular vote below:

Party      Seats       Popular Vote %

PC:          76                  40.49

NDP:       40                  33.57

Lib:          7                   19.59

Green:    1                     4.60

Of note, all four party leaders won their ridings, including Kathleen Wynne, who announced her resignation as Liberal leader on election night.

So, what happened?

First, full credit to the PC campaign who, strategically, did not see the need to release a fully costed platform, limited media availability of their leader and candidates, and, recognizing the threat from the NDP, spent the last 8-9 days of the campaign carpet bombing the NDP with ads that were effective without being over the top.  Additional credit due for recognizing that Doug Ford’s personal approval numbers had started to slide, and made sure that he was accompanied by people like Christine Elliott and Caroline Mulroney at all of his campaign stops toward the end.  While this formula may not work the next time, kudos to the PC team for realizing that it would work this time, and enabling it.

Of course, there has been no admission that Ford was joined by members of his team because his personal numbers were in decline.  If asked, the campaign would say that this was intended to contrast PC candidates with the collection of characters running for the NDP, who, unfortunately, were exposed for having said and posted some unfortunate statements before the election, and who were emphasized in the PC ad barrage.  We will leave it to you to decide why the Ford team made the team decision.

Those of you who have been receiving our weekly updates would know that as late as last week, polls published by credible pollsters showed a real horse race, with a couple even indicating a small NDP lead.  Only later in the week did we see the PCs open about a 3% lead.  They won by 6% yesterday. 

Why the difference?  Did the pollsters get it wrong? Not at all.  It can be explained. 

First, the PC message was easy to understand. While pundits bemoaned the lack of detail, the public was looking for tone, more than it was looking for specifics. The few specifics Ford put in the window were simple, like reducing the price of gasoline by ten cents per litre. The message was also tightly controlled.

Secondly, once the campaign shifted into fear mode, the PCs raised the specter of the NDP destroying the Ontario economy. This was more compelling than the NDP raising fear of the PCs cutting programs.  Ford and his people knew that pocketbook issues like affordability and the cost of living were on voters’ minds.  They ran with it, successfully.  Minds were changed in the last week.

Finally, the NDP did not offer enough of a comfortable home for voters who wanted to end 15 years of Liberal rule.  While Andrea Horwath smartly framed the election as a binary choice between her party and the PCs, leaving the Liberals for dead, the progressive, anti-Ford voters did not coalesce around her and her party, as they coalesced around the Wynne Liberals in 2014.  The NDP platform was remarkably similar to the Liberal 2018 budget and platform; the gambit seemed to be, if you like their stuff but are tired of them, you can vote for us and get the same stuff without getting them.  Apparently, not enough voters were looking for that stuff, with or without the Wynne Liberals.  Debt and deficits mattered. 

As for the Liberals, the future is bleak.  The party lost official party status, having fallen short of 8 seats.  That means there will be no funding from the Legislative Assembly for research and caucus staff.  It means there will be no official recognition during Question Period and in committee structures.  The 7 Liberal MPPs will essentially sit as private members.  The Liberal party is now several million dollars in debt; Ford has previously said he will end the taxpayer funded per vote subsidy the parties have been receiving since 2017.  Even if this continues, with 20% of the vote having gone their way, the Liberals are in a precarious financial position.   They will also have to choose a new leader.  A tall order. 

The PCs have elected MPPs from every region of the province.  They have rural, urban and suburban representation in their caucus going forward. They are culturally diverse.  They are fortunate enough to have strong women assume prominent cabinet positions.  Their front bench could include, among others:

Christine Elliott                Newmarket-Aurora

Caroline Mulroney           York-Simcoe

Vic Fedeli                          Nipissing

Rod Phillips                      Ajax

Peter Bethlenfalvy            Pickering-Uxbridge

Lisa Macleod                    Nepean

Steve Clark                       Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes

Greg Rickford                   Kenora-Rainy River

Remember, Ford did not have much support from the PC caucus in his leadership bid and doesn’t owe very much to very many people. Look for the new cabinet to be sworn in around June 28th or so.

Other than their elected representatives, Premier Ford will be assisted by Dean French, who moves from campaign chair to Chief of Staff.  The transition team will be chaired by Chris Froggatt, and be assisted by John Baird, Dr. Rueben Devlin, Simone Daniels and Michael Coates.  We expect Ford to also name a Principal Secretary, arguably the most important staff job in the Ontario government.  As of this writing, one has not been named.

Of course, the new government will need some time to look at the province’s finances and see if the deficit number is closer to the Liberals’ $6.7 billion or the Auditor General’s $12 billion.  We expect outside help to be brought in to conduct the line by line review as promised, and recall Doug Ford’s commitment to find 4% in efficiencies ($6 billion on the $150 billion provincial budget).  Given that 87 cents of every dollar spent by Ontario is to pay someone to do something, this process might be painful for some.  This would not be the first time a new government took office and exclaimed that the finances were worse than they thought, so some things will have to wait; it could happen again.  At this point we do not know when the Legislature will be recalled, followed by a Speech from the Throne, where the government will lay out its priorities for the session.  

We look forward to working with the Doug Ford PC government for the next four years.  There will be many challenges ahead for them as they settle into government.  We have already seen their openness to meeting with stakeholders and receiving input.   Remember that their platform is a 4 year plan, and not everything will happen in year one. We certainly wish them well as the start down this road, as they, like you and us, want good government in this province.

As always, please feel free to contact us with any questions.

For more information please contact:

Joseph Ragusa, Principaljragusa@sussex-strategy.com,  416-961-6611 ext. 105

Joseph Ragusa
Principal
A founding partner of Sussex, Joseph has been a Principal at the firm since its inception in 1998. With over 30 years of experience in government, consulting, and politics, Joseph has particular strength in policy development and government process, with an acute talent for assessing political dynamics. Joseph employs his experience, his relationships with stakeholders and government officials, and his reputation in pursuit of his clients’ government relations objectives. Joseph leads the Sussex provincial government relations practice.
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