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.
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.
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.