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Welcome to The Push Back: Setting Ballot Box Benchmarks

Welcome to The Push Back, Navigator’s Ontario elections analysis with a crisis communications twist. We’re bringing our proprietary insights and crisis communications expertise to bear on the issues of the election, from the hubbub of social media to how political messages are landing with voters. We identify exactly what will make or break Ontario’s political leaders and parties as they vie for the governing seat at Queen’s Park.

Ontario’s political parties are already gearing up for the campaign trail. Last week, the PCs released the 2022 Ontario budget, only to have the legislature adjourn without passing the document. It’s clear the Ford government hopes to make their budget a ballot box question as the province approaches election day on June 2.

Research Insights | Ballot Box Questions

Each week, we will ask Ontario voters whether they think political parties are gaining or losing ground on the issues they care about most. In this edition, we’re establishing a benchmark of what issues matter most to Ontarians going into the election, while taking a peek at some of the wedge issues already on the table.

The cost of living is the top concern for voters by a landslide with 7 in 10 Ontarians identifying it as their most important issue in this election. The issue lands 20 points over health care, just as the focus on the pandemic begins to diminish. We can anticipate this issue will drive real competition among parties to prove who has the best plan to make life more affordable for Ontario voters. Surprisingly, transit, child care, and education are all taking a back seat (for now) in this election.

We also did some testing on two hot button issues: housing and the proposed Highway 413 project. Of the housing policies announced by political parties to date, four NDP policies scored highest with over 70 per cent support, including closing loopholes on renovictions (81 per cent), building 69,000 new affordable homes over 10 years (81 per cent), raising property taxes on the rich (72 per cent) and targeting provincial supports to first-time home buyers and renters (72 per cent). While the Liberals have not yet released their full housing platform, their promise to end the practice of Ministerial Zoning Orders (MZOs) received only 48 per cent support. Some good news for the PCs: on Highway 413, we found broad support from 905 voters, with 57 per cent saying they support the project, with overall provincial support for the project resting at 45 per cent.

What We’re Watching

Looking at the week ahead, here are a few things on our radar that could generate some push back between the contending parties.

  • Two days before writ drop, Premier Doug Ford and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a major $3.6 billion auto investment announcement at Stellantis Monday afternoon in Windsor. Stellantis will retool and modernize their plants in Windsor and Brampton, and build two new research and development centres, to support electric vehicle production.
  • Unlike their federal cousins, the Ontario Liberals and NDP have ruled out a coalition if they lose to Ford’s PCs in June.
  • Will cheap transit win out over toll-free highways? Del Duca’s Liberals promised they would reduce transit fares to $1 per ride until 2024.

Hold My Beer

On April 25, the NDP released its election platform, and as expected, they were instantly met with criticism from other parties. The Liberals were quick to criticize the platform’s launch by pointing out a seemingly undetected mistake in the cover image – a fellow casually chugging his beer. The Liberal war room was quick to poke fun at the oversight, claiming that’s why the NDP’s “platform math is always so wonky.”

NDP leader Andrea Horwath pushed back by sharing a photo of her enjoying a beer and responded to criticism saying, “After a long day it’s nice to relax with a cold beverage. Cheers, @OLPWarRoom!”

Social Media

Andrea Horwath’s post saw high traction with a total of 1,406 engagements, significantly higher than the Liberal war room’s post with only 261 engagements. Top influencers engaging with these posts include many NDP candidates supporting Andrea Horwath. MPP Catherine Fife shared Horwath’s post and NDP candidate for Nipissing, Erika Lougheed also shared her support by posting a photo of herself enjoying a beer.

The Push Back Verdict – White Noise

We would label this exchange as “white noise,” something that won’t move votes for any side. BUT we give a tip of the hat to Ms. Horwath for effectively pushing back on her critics. Two admirable traits politicians can use to connect with voters are using some humour and not taking oneself too seriously. Ms. Horwath does both here and we don’t think this little incident will impact the party on the campaign trail.

Budget ‘Bait & Switch’

Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy came under fire after not being clear on whether he would commit to re-introducing the same budget if the PC government is re-elected. While the Premier’s office and Ministry of Finance were quick to clarify and indicate the budget will be reintroduced, opposition parties, media and advocacy groups pushed back on the government for not standing behind the commitments made in the document.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath called out the PCs for the “bait and switch” budget, which she believes would result in cuts if they were re-elected. Horwath’s pressure on the PCs budget generated increased media attention, but let’s see how the coverage unfolded.

Mainstream Media

There have been 102 media stories covering this issue since the budget was announced. Coverage is provincewide with some regional outlets syndicating a Toronto Star story. Key outlets reporting include CTV, the Toronto Star, Global News and CityNews.

Social Media

There were 779 mentions on social media regarding the issue from April 27 to May 2. Engagement on social media channels peaked on April 28, the day the budget was announced. Social media conversation was predominantly held via Twitter. Key influencers engaging on this issue include the Paramount Fine Foods CEO Mohamad Fakih and the grassroots movement against the Ford government NotOneSeat, who openly criticized Minister Bethlenfalvy for his refusal to commit to the budget.

The Push Back Verdict – Rolling Stone

We would label this exchange as a “rolling stone” that could end up impacting the PCs’ credibility on the election trail. Given the media traction, we think the NDP will continue to hammer the PCs for introducing a budget they never intended to pass.

We know the opposition can make political hay out of this issue, but it remains to be seen whether it will resonate among voters. We’ll stay tuned and provide an update if we see any movement on this front.

In Other News…

  • ICYMI: All three parties released new campaign ads last week—some were heartfelt, and others, less so.
  • This past weekend, the PCs and NDP unveiled their campaign buses and the Liberals kicked off their campaign at Del Duca’s nomination meeting in Vaughan—Woodbridge. While reporters will be welcomed on an NDP media bus, there will be no such conveniences for the gallery following the PCs and Liberals on the campaign trail.
  • In a new hit ad against Del Duca, the Labourers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) officially endorsed Ford for Premier, suggesting the Liberals were not ready to lead.
  • As inflation rates grow, Del Duca announced his commitment to make mealtime more affordable. On Friday, the Liberals promised to cut the eight per cent provincial portion of HST on prepared foods.
  • Del Duca announced the Liberal Party’s commitment to revolutionize long-term care in the province—much like Horwath’s NDPs, he vowed to ban for-profit facilities and emphasize homestyle care.
  • As part of their platform, the NDP pledged a four-year tax freeze for low and middle income families. Noted by Horwath, this move is not meant to starve the provincial treasury. Rather, the NDP plan to pay for it by taxing Ontario’s wealthiest corporations and highest-income individuals more.

Ontario Budget 2022

This afternoon, the Ontario government unveiled its 2022 budget entitled “Ontario’s Plan to Build.” If some of the budget items look familiar, it’s because they are. Many of the initiatives were announced in the weeks prior to the budget, with the tax initiatives and a few other pieces excepted.​

Let’s be honest: this is an election budget, a pseudo-platform for the PCs to run on in the coming weeks. In the document, the PCs clearly carve out the battle lines. ​

They’re going back to running on their traditional strengths when it comes to growing jobs and the economy through a Critical Minerals Strategy tied to Ring of Fire development and a whopping $12 billion in electric vehicle deals signed over the past few months. They’re swinging for labour votes with the expansion of Ontario’s low-income tax credit, investments in skills training and upping the minimum wage to $15.50 per hour this fall. ​

Contrast with the opposition is very apparent throughout the document and in the Minister’s speech. In a bid for suburban votes, the PCs have staked their claim on supporting contentious infrastructure projects like Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass, daring the opposition to stop building roads that would help 905 commuters and workers. On another front, the PCs see delivering on their promises for more hospital beds, long-term care beds, and health human resources as more than just building the future of health care; it’s daring the opposition to say anything against efforts to keep the economy open amid a sixth wave of the pandemic. ​

With all the talk about inflation and cost of living, one important commitment is missing from this fourth-year budget is the middle-class income tax cut promised by PCs on the 2018 campaign trail. Will the other relief measures be enough to placate voters? Will affordability ultimately become the ballot box issue? Ontarians will have to find out for themselves on June 2. ​

You can download our budget analysis here.

If your organization is asking these questions, our team of political experts has the answers. Please reach out to start a conversation at info@navltd.com.

You can also stay in the know by subscribing to our complimentary Ontario elections updates here.

Ontario Budget 2022_Navigator Summary and Analysis

Federal Budget 2022

In her second budget as Finance Minister, Chrystia Freeland has proposed a much more prudent economic plan for Canada than had been anticipated, especially when one considers her first budget in April 2021, her party’s election platform last fall, and the Trudeau government’s confidence-and-supply agreement with the New Democrats.​

This budget signals the beginning of the end of pandemic supports. The pace of withdrawal is appropriately measured, but the objective is clear: the Government of Canada is winding down the temporary measures it had introduced as a result of COVID-19.​

The budget reflects the recent agreement with the NDP, in that it signals progress on that party’s key priorities, but the impact is very focused on a select few policy commitments. In fact, the impact of that agreement is circumscribed by external considerations, which have clearly applied more pressure on the government’s choices than the confidence-and-supply agreement. We are indeed a far cry from Building Back Better.​

In the main, the 2022 federal budget is shaped by global forces that have limited the government’s scope of action and focused its attention on a few key priorities: housing, climate change and the war in Europe. This is not the budget that had been anticipated when Prime Minister Trudeau selected his cabinet and drafted their mandate letters. This is the budget the world and all its uncertainties have thrust onto Canada.

You can download our budget analysis here.

For more analysis, or support engaging government on any of the budget announcements, contact your Navigator team or reach out at info@navltd.com

Budget 2022 - Navigator Insights and Analysis_EN

Alberta Budget 2022

If Budget 2022 was a well-lit path, it would lead straight to the ballot box in 2023. President of Treasury Board and Minister of Finance Travis Toews, tabled his fourth budget aptly titled “Moving Forward” that defined the priorities for the UCP government as they focus on the endemic, job creation and investment attraction anchored by the Alberta Recovery Plan including the new Alberta at Work initiative which provides $600 million over the next three years to help get more Albertans working.

With the focus on working Albertans, Minister Toews pulled a page from former premier Ralph Klein by personifying a new version of an Albertan – Larry, a 30 year veteran pipefitter and family man who is out of work, barely surviving on financial supports and suffering from declining mental health and nervous about retraining and finding new work at his age. Minister Toews shared with the assembly, “Budget 2022 is for Larry and every Albertan that needs a hand up; it is for the entrepreneurs that have a vision not only for their business but for their community; it is for future generations who may never know the choices we made today so they have greater opportunities tomorrow.”

The UCP Caucus picked up energy as the minister’s budget address continued, offering loud cheers and applause when Minister Toews announced the province is back to black with a modest surplus of $500 million, a vast improvement over the sea of red ink facing the province at the height of the pandemic and the glut of world energy prices.

The positive tone of the budget was not without criticism and partisan jabs of the performance and spending habits of the previous NDP government, providing Albertans with a glimpse of the narrative that is to be expected over the next year as we near closer and closer to election season. The minister reminded Albertans of the UCP government’s fiscal pillars and shared that after much heavy lifting, “we have arrived”, sharing that the annual 4% spending increase trend from the previous government has been brought down to less than half a per cent per year and that Alberta is now delivering government services within a comparable range to other provinces.

Can the UCP government “Move Forward” from the pandemic woes of the last two years? We will have to see how many Larrys join Martha and Henry at the ballot box in 2023.

You can download our budget analysis here.

For more analysis, or support engaging government on any of the budget announcements, contact your Navigator team or reach out at info@navltd.com