To finish in a position to deliver change (in other words, to win the election), the PC Party must meet three simple and related goals: stick to its message, hold fast to its plan, and remember its audience.
First, stick to the message. Change. The PC message is quite simple: After eight years of Liberal government, it’s time for change. Change from surprise taxes. Change from record spending that has not been accompanied by improved services or a plan for jobs.
“Change, change, change.” Though PC candidates tire of repeating the mantra for another four weeks, they must recognize that millions of Ontarians still have not heard the message.
Second, hold to the plan. Every election campaign presents a thousand distractions. Some diversions reflect the priorities of news reporters or interest groups; others result from political opponents trying to throw you off course. Very few of these distractions will be important to ordinary Ontarians. A winning campaign ignores the chatter and remains focused on what matters. In this case, the means focusing on the Liberal record and on [Changebook], the PC plan to deliver positive change.
Dalton McGuinty famously promised “I won’t raise your taxes” and then repeatedly did just that: raise taxes. This is a key reason why fed up voters want change. The PC Party cannot lose sight of that imperative.
Third, remember the audience. Elections are not decided by pollsters, pundits or journalists. Ordinary families - people who work hard, pay their taxes and play by the rules – will carry the day. The winning campaign must keep focused on ordinary Ontarians, regardless of pollsters’ predictions and media coverage of campaign process. Remember that during the recent federal election campaign, most polls underestimated Conservative support, and media fascination with process stories (such as the rules for press conferences) had no bearing on the final result.
- Guy Giorno, former chief of staff to Mike Harris and Stephen Harper
The challenge that Premier Dalton McGuinty faces is making his experience a positive as his opponents seek to portray that same experience as a reason for change.
The Ontario Liberal party is in a very different position this campaign – like in 2003 and 2007 they are trailing in the run up to the vote. However, a trove of political talent is not running again and they must defend their record instead of simply pointing to the previous Harris/Eves administration’s record.
The Liberal Platform is built on past achievements and is narrowly focused on 45 commitments which target middle-class and family voters. The platform, and the recent advertisements which have the Premier talking about “tough choices,” will not inspire Daltonmania, but rather a choice on a tested leader versus a new one.
A third majority government will not be a cake walk. They will have to fight a battle on two fronts, while defending their record and trying to ward off the change vote. They also need to get the right votes in the right places.
Fighting on two fronts:
The Ontario Liberal Party is, for the first time in recent history, fighting a real fight on both sides of the political spectrum. The center vote is being chased by all three parties – with the Ontario NDP and the PC Party of Ontario both trying to occupy space which has traditionally been the Liberal party’s domain.
Whether one looks at the Toronto mayor’s race, or the results of the recent Federal election, one can clearly see what happens when the NDP vote rises while the Conservative vote is solid – it aids in the election of Conservatives. The Liberals need to sell their record on the environment, green energy, and the reduction of tuition costs for post secondary education, to form a strategic voting scenario (where left votes will come to them). This is particularly crucial in the suburban parts of the GTA where the prospects of NDP winning seats is low, however, the prospect of NDP voters inadvertently electing conservatives is very high.
Defending their record:
The Premier has hedged his bets that Ontarians will think that the Province is a better place today than it was in 2003. This assumes that people remember politics in Ontario prior to 2003 while also believing the government’s progress reports.
The record is sound – more hospitals, doctors and nurses, no disruptions in schools service (labour peace!), smaller class sizes, better graduation rates, and more students attending post-secondary education. The party has been touting their successes with third party endorsers for the past year. The question is have people been paying attention and do people believe it.
Warding off the change vote:
Both the NDP and the PC party are portraying themselves as the “change” party.The opinion polls have shown this number to be very high which should be of concern to the Liberals.
The Liberal party needs to drive their message that change for the sake of change is not the way forward. Further, they need to sell the Premier’s leadership experience versus the untested leadership abilities of their opponents.
Getting the right votes in the right places:
Where the Ontario Liberals' votes are located will decide the outcome of the election. So will be their ability to get out the vote.
Toronto and the 905 region will be vitally important. Of 107 seats, 22 are in the 905 area code and 23 are in the 416 area code. I strongly believe that the performance of Rob Ford will motivate voters in the 416. The mayor’s popularity has been weaning, and voters may ask themselves if the Tory hat-trick (Ford, Harper, Hudak) is something that is positive for Toronto.
The Ontario Liberal party needs to motivate their base and then make sure they get out their vote – particularly in Toronto. Liberal supporters need a reason to get to the polling stations, particularly since the PC party and the NDP have traditionally been much better at motivating their vote.
Path to Victory:
The path for victory is not going to be an easy one. All three parties will have to make their cases to the electorate, but more, be able to capture their attention. The Premier has an advantage he needs to use – he is the Premier, he has a record of accomplishment, in this time of global economic instability change may just not be the right course of action and the hat trick of 3 conservative governments may not be popular.
What is sure is the Ontario Liberal party needs to get more votes, in the right places, than the other guys.
- Erika Mozes, former senior adviser to George Smitherman and Gerard Kennedy
What do New Democrats need to do to win? First, let’s establish what exactly their goal is in this election.
Andrea Horwath is running to become Premier. She wants to earn the public’s trust, form the government, create a cabinet and implement an election platform that’s focused on making Ontario a province of greater prosperity, equality, and generosity.
This is a new approach for the NDP. In the more recent past, the party was content to be a strong representational force. Not this time. Their goal is government.
What will Horwath and her New Democrat team be up against?
Tim Hudak and Dalton McGuinty will say voters don’t have a choice. They will say Ontarians can only select what’s behind the blue door and what’s behind the red door. They have to choose more of the same broken politics that have dominated Queen’s Park for the last 15 years.
To win this election, Horwath and her NDP team must prove Hudak and McGuinty wrong. New Democrats have to convince voters they do have a choice. They can do things differently. They can say no to the old way of doing things and choose the orange door. They can elect an NDP government.
To accomplish this goal, Horwath must persistently and passionately talk about her message of bringing change that puts people first.
Let’s look at the substance of her message.
On cost of living: That together we can provide relief for families by removing the HST from essentials like hydro, home heating fuel and gas.
On jobs: That together we can create good jobs for families by cutting small business taxes and rewarding job creators instead of tax giveaways to banks and insurance companies.
On health care: That together we can give seniors more support to live in their own homes and cut emergency room wait times in half if we get our priorities straight and make the right choices .
That’s change New Democrats are convinced people can believe in.
Horwath’s approach is also important. These last few weeks, we have seen Canadians express a desire, no, a determination and resolve to bring more civility to politics. Rather than run an old-style campaign focused on name-calling, negative attacks and manufactured outrage, New Democrats would do well to stick to the high road. Don’t oppose. Propose. This approach served the federal NDP well in the recent federal election. It would serve Horwath and her team well too.
What about this being Horwath’s first election? While it is true McGuinty enters this election with the advantage of it his fourth election, Horwath is no untested rookie. She has 20 years’ experience as a community organizer, city councillor at rough-and-tumble Hamilton City Hall, and an MPP. Don’t let her smile and charm fool you. She is a tough, experienced and determined leader. These qualities will serve her well during the campaign. So will her sense of humour and ability to connect with ordinary people.
What does Horwath have going for her?
Folks who know Horwath like her. Headed into the election, Horwath is the most liked provincial leader. Latest polls show she has the highest leader approval ratings. And under her leadership, the party’s popular support has steadily increased to the mid-20s. That’s the highest the NDP has been in the polls headed into an election since Gary Leeman scored 50 goals for the Maple Leafs, and Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore heated up the big screen in “Ghost.” Horwath has an energized and inspired grassroots behind her. And she’s riding the wave of the federal orange crush, where the NDP won or came second in 56 Ontario ridings.
But for most Ontarians, Horwath remains unknown. The NDP needs to change that if it hopes to form the next provincial government.
Will that be a hard slog? It sure will be.
The NDP has less money than its opponents who raise big money from corporate donors thanks to Ontario’s election finance laws. The New Democrats will also have to fight for media attention. News outlets are important channels for communicating with key audiences. Getting covered is a struggle for all third parties in elections, even when the polls are close. Ms. Horwath will also have to show poise when responding to attacks from her opponents, who will no doubt try to drive her off her message of positive change.
Will Horwath succeed? Voters will decide on October 6. But this much is certain. This time, in this election, the race is wide open. New Democrats are in the game. And they’re in it to win.
And why? Star writer Jim Coyle sums it up well. “[Horwath’s] a new kind of leader, largely bereft of ego, in politics not to make a career of it but to serve.”
- Jeffrey Ferrier, former communications director for the Ontario NDP