Make a note on your calendars: the next provincial election campaign in Ontario will begin one year from Tuesday.
The fixed-date election law in Ontario sets the election day for June 2, 2022, and the formal campaign period for May 4, 2022.
Despite the fact that a year can seem like a long time and that a federal election may be called before Ontario votes — both of the provincial parties are working hard to prepare for the campaign. Under the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re naming candidates, sketching out plans, putting together election agendas, and raising funds.
One of the great unknowns for the parties is how much the pandemic will influence Ontario voters’ decisions a year from now.
In the last month, a series of polls have revealed increasing discontent with Premier Doug Ford and his Progressive Conservative government’s handling of the province’s response to COVID-19.
However, there’s no guarantee that this discontent will continue until June 2022, let alone result in a PC election defeat. Nonetheless, Ford’s recent sharp changes in strategy, such as his U-turn on paid sick days, indicate that his strategists are concerned that public opinion will turn against him.
According to the study, there are near-record levels of knowledge. “They should be really worried,” said Greg Lyle, president of Innovative Research Group, a national company that specializes in opinion research.
“Underlying emotions anchor public sentiment,” Lyle said in an interview. His company has been tracking how closely Ontarians observe provincial politics for a long time, and his findings indicate near-record levels of awareness for a period between elections.
Since so many people are watching Ford’s response to the pandemic, Lyle believes the underlying emotions that emerge now have the potential to stick and matter in the next election.
In a recent poll conducted by Innovative Research Group, a large majority of respondents blamed the Ford government for the third wave of COVID-19. Ford is attempting to blame Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the federal government for the incident.
Ford consistently promoted the narrative that COVID-19 cases from other countries are driving the third wave during a news conference on Friday. Since January, the COVID-19 version that is currently dominant in Ontario (B117, first detected in the United Kingdom) has been spreading throughout the province, and Ford’s government eased public health restrictions in February.
“The workplace variants are coming from the borders,” Ford said at the press conference.
He went on to say, “Not enough is being done to keep these dangerous versions out of Canada.” “The system would work if the borders were safe.”
“Continue working hard, making sure that I do my job to make sure that these variants don’t come in across the border,” Ford said in response to a reporter’s question about what he’ll do to win back voters unhappy with his handling of the pandemic.
Just 1% of new COVID-19 infections reported in April were due to travel, according to data from Ontario’s Ministry of Health.
“Showing that he knows his faults and a willingness to fix them would be extremely important for him to step forward,” Lyle said. “Once the pandemic is over and he can focus on economic recovery, he’ll be in a much stronger spot.”
Just ask Kathleen Wynne how difficult it is to reverse public opinion once it has turned against you. In the spring of 2017, the former premier’s approval rating plummeted to a record low of 12%, and she never fully recovered, eventually leading the Ontario Liberals to their worst-ever election result in 2018.