, 02.26.2018 08:28 AM

Column: the Ontario election is in 73 days. Who’s gonna win it?

The Patrick Clown Show continues to be the biggest political story in Canada – but the biggest provincial conservative party, the Ontario PCs, are still competitive.

How come?

The papers are brimming with stories about Patrick Brown. For instance: on Wednesday morning of last week, out of 13 provincial-politics-related clippings landing on staffers’ desks at Queen’s Park, fully 12 were about the man-boy who wants to lead a PC caucus that wants nothing to do with him.

There was a news story about Patrick, dating an intern in his office – and then taking her along on international trips, paid for by God-knows-who. There was another news story about Patrick, scheming to sell off some Aeroplan points and a miniscule share in a bar for a whopping $375,000 to a pal – and then said pal somehow thereafter winning a coveted PC nomination, uncontested. There’s social media stories Patrick, “liking” softcore porn shots, or drawing pictures of a woman’s breasts in the sand on a beach. Seriously.

You’d think that all that controversy would be taking a toll on Ontario Progressive Conservative fortunes, right? You’d think that – but you’d be wrong.

  • Ipsos: Notwithstanding the Patrick Clown Show, nearly 40 per cent of Ontarians still plan to vote PC – with the Liberals and NDP effectively tied, at 29 and 26 per cent respectively. Said Ipsos spox Darrell Bricker: “If [the PCs] are leading by that much, they’re poised to form a majority government.”
  • Forum: Despite all the Brown-related follies, almost 50 per cent of Ontario voters say they support the PCs – with the Liberals getting less than half that, at 24 per cent, and the NDP 19 per cent. Said Forum boss Lorne Bozinoff: “The Premier doesn’t seem to connect with the electorate…The constant stream of media attention and fervor surrounding the leadership race has done nothing but help the Progressive Conservatives.”
  • Campaign Research: Campaign Research (who my firm uses, full disclosure) had the Wynne-helmed Liberals competitive with the Brown-led PCs for months. As soon as the PC caucus dumped their libidinous leader, their party rocketed ahead – with 43 per cent support, and the Grits and the Dippers rounding out the bottom at 28 and 20 per cent, respectively. Said smart Campaign Research guy Eli Yufest: “When you’ve got the stark contrast between Patrick Brown and Kathleen Wynne people were on the fence – or at least tied between the two leaders. Now that people have been given more options – namely Doug Ford, Caroline Mulroney, and Christine Elliott – they’re giving the PCs a more serious second look.”

Amazing, no? Welcome to the Trump polling era, folks: wherein a party’s brand can be linked to sexual assault, corruption and appalling behaviour – and still be way ahead. Way, way ahead.

So what accounts for it? No less than three much-cited polling firms are confidently predicting that the Ontario Progressive Conservatives will win a majority if they pick Christine Elliott, Caroline Mulroney or Doug Ford (with Elliott providing the biggest electoral payoff). How can this be?

Two reasons, in this scribe’s opinion. (And neither have to do with corruption or scandal. Scandal stuff suppresses voters, sometimes. But it doesn’t motivate voters.)

One: change, versus more of the same.

That was the ballot question in 2003, when Dalton McGuinty scored a massive majority win – and helped to elect a newcomer named Kathleen Wynne: change. “Choose change” was the pithily brilliant slogan selected by Don Guy and Laura Miller in 2003, and it worked. Bigly.

It worked a decade before that, too, for Bill Clinton. Those words were affixed to the war room wall in Little Rock by the legendary James Carville: “change versus more of the same.” When that is the frame for an election, Carville later told me, the challenger will always beat the incumbent. Always.

That, increasingly, is the frame here in Ontario. That’s what the aforementioned polls clearly say, too.

Two: alternation.

This theory holds that Ontario voters prefer to have different teams occupying the government benches in Toronto and Ottawa. So, when the wonderful Liberal Pierre Trudeau ruled the roost in Ottawa, Progressive Conservative Bill Davis dominated here in Toronto. In the glorious, great Jean Chretien federal years, the NDP’s Bob Rae and the PC’s Mike Harris and Ernie Eves presided over the Ontario provincial scene. And, shortly after McGuinty commenced his near-decade-long hold on power, Stephen Harper would commence his near-decade-long hold on power, too.

Some pundits and prognosticators dispute the Kinsellian Alternation Theorem™, but none of them know what they’re talking about, as usual. The minute Justin Trudeau scored a huge win in 2015, Kathleen Wynne started to track ever-downwards. She is now (and has been for some time) the least-popular Premier in Canada.

Whether it’s alternation, or choose change, one thing can’t be disputed: the 2018 Ontario election is kicking off 73 days from today.

And, the Patrick Clown Show notwithstanding, the Ontario PCs are still the ones favoured to win it.


  1. Pedant says:

    To add another example to the alternation evidence as well as expand one of yours :

    1) Mulroney PC landslide in 1984 set the stage for, firstly, a reduction of the provincial PCs to minority status in 1985 (defeated in the legislature by Lib-NDP coalition, which then took power), and then in 1987 the massive Peterson Liberal majority win.

    2) Pierre Trudeau / Bill Davis were part of an extended yin/yang of Red Ottawa and Blue Queen’s Park stretching back to 1943. The PCs were in power in Ontario for 42 years without interruption until 1985. The Liberals were in power in Ottawa during 85% of that period (all except the 5 Dief years + <1 year Clark).

    So really, the alternation goes back some 75 years.

  2. Alex says:

    What happens if Patrick Brown manages to win once again the leadership of the PCs? After watching Rob Ford and Donald Trump get elected, we have to be prepared for the possibility of Premier Brown. While I do not think he will win, nor do I want him to (I am a centre-left voter), I think the chances of him being elected are much higher than people are giving him credit for.

  3. Dork in East York says:

    One thing I will take to the bank: Record low voter turnout.

  4. James Smith says:

    Perhaps you’re correct in your predictions. But like 50% of books on politics & 80% on business I think the premise is an exercise in “the Texas share shooter”. (That & the concept of “alteration” was cooked up as a talking point by the Davis Tories in the 1970’s!) I do take your point of “time for a change” just like 4 years ago, but if you ask people why (as I do- life long bad habit!) the answer is almost always has to do with the last Premier, not the present one. I say this as a fan of both.

  5. Matt says:

    Personally, I think people just want a change. They’ve tuned out Wynne. All of her big announcements – 25% hydro reduction (not a cut as thry claimed but rather a deferral), the minimum wage increase, the free prescriptions for youth ect – all designed to boost Liberal support haven’t mooved the needle.

    As an aside, I was told Ford’s camp has had discussions with Elliott for him to eventually withdraw and throw his support to Christine and hopefully bring his voters with him. It would be to help keep Brown from winning. With the rumours Brown is about to pull out, I wonder if the Ford/Elliott talks are still on.

  6. Mezba says:

    The biggest conclusion from the Trump era is NOT to trust the polls. ALL polls had Hillary Clinton winning, and yet she didn’t.

    • James Smith says:

      Yes & no. I believe she was close nationally to the numbers in the polls & did win the popular vote. But to your point; I’ve been cleaning out a lot of junk in the past few months & happen upon a poll done in the federal riding of Burlington in the final 2-3 weeks of the 1988 election & the grits were going to win that riding until the Bomb the Bridges campaign commenced.

    • Matt says:

      The vast majority of the polls had Hilliary winning the popular vote. She did. By a lot.

      Where they were wrong was in their Electoral College predictions.

      • Fred from BC says:

        “The vast majority of the polls had Hilliary winning the popular vote. She did. By a lot.”

        Sorry, Matt…but it was only by 2.1 percent (roughly).
        2.8 million votes, sure…but out of over 120 million votes cast? That’s no landslide by anyone’s measure.

  7. Peter says:

    Here’s a cautionary tale for those against the PCs and also the Dems down south, who seem to be betting the pot on an endless succession of Trump horror stories. I read a great article by an Italian leftist academic talking about the Berlusconi era. He made Trump look like a choir boy with his flamboyant outrages, financial scandals, criminal charges and sexual assaults. He mortified the Italian and European political and cultural classes and even business, much like Ford in Toronto. For years they aimed all their guns at his image and reputation, confident that most Italians wouldn’t put up with him if they knew all the details. But to their repeated horror, he just kept winning. After several defeats, they finally ignored the scandals and outrages and went head to head with him on the issues, at which time they finally got rid of him.

    You would think Canadian progressives would understand this, having lost three elections where they ran on “sky-is-falling-in” Harper Derangement Syndrome.

    • Fred from BC says:

      “After several defeats, they finally ignored the scandals and outrages and went head to head with him on the issues, at which time they finally got rid of him.”

      That’s the same tactic they could use to get rid of Donald Trump, too…but they just don’t seem mature enough to do it. It’s just too much fun wallowing in the muck and slinging mud for them to give it up, sadly.

  8. oldretiredbutactive says:

    The MSM is not reporting the big crowds and very warm receptions Doug Ford is receiving, especially from newcomers to Canada who want a more business friendly province.

    Don’t believe me? Go to one of his events. Doug is a goddamn rock star.

    And he’s matured greatly over the past 5 years and mock all you want but Doug has finally “grown up.”

    Elliot is still there and showing nice “high energy” and is really in it to win it. Hope she does win, personally.

    PC majority, sweeping the 905, seats in the 416, big all over the province.

    Wynne went too far left and it didn’t work.

    Real race is the next Ontario election. And Ford and Kenney against Justin coming.

    Fun times, or at least entertaining.

  9. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    I’m still sticking with a reverse federal template. NDP voters to a considerable extent moved to the LPC to put Justin in and throw Harper out.

    This time OLP voters have a big decision to make: move strategically to the NDP in hopes of stopping the PCs. Or they can stay home in droves or vote Wynne, which at this point would be nothing more than a wasted vote.

    The game is no longer about Wynne. Stopping a PC majority has to be the progressive aim going forward. That’s the name of the game.

  10. Fred from BC says:

    “The MSM is not reporting the big crowds and very warm receptions Doug Ford is receiving, especially from newcomers to Canada who want a more business friendly province. ”

    Don’t tell me that the MSM are once again trying to push their preferred candidate on the public? Do these people never learn? That tactic ceased working with the advent of social media; now it just makes them look dishonest.

    They also aren’t reporting the fact that Donald Trump’s approval ratings have been steadily climbing. His numbers are still low, but at least they are higher than CNN’s…

    • doconnor says:

      Normally I’d say “big crowds” represent a tiny fraction of voters, but that is less turn of Canadian leadership races when there are only tens of thousands of voters.

      Trumps approval ratings have trended back down in the last few weeks: https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/?ex_cid=rrpromo

      • Fred from BC says:

        “Normally I’d say “big crowds” represent a tiny fraction of voters, but that is less turn of Canadian leadership races when there are only tens of thousands of voters.”

        So, proportionally more significant than it appears at first glance?

        “Trumps approval ratings have trended back down in the last few weeks: ”

        Depends on who you consider trustworthy, I suppose.

        I see a drop from 41 to 39% from 538.com, but Newsweek and Bloomberg reference another poll that has him at 50% and slightly above where Barak Obama was at the same point in his own presidency. CNN also commissioned a poll, but the numbers are 15% lower and CNN is drawing flak from many quarters (not just Republican, either) for their apparent bias.

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