With polls signalling Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives are on the brink of re-election Thursday, the opposition leaders jockeying for second place are calculating their odds of political survival.
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca was bullish Tuesday, insisting things feel different from the last provincial election in 2018, when he lost his own seat in Vaughan-Woodbridge.
“Let me tell you, the vibe is good. The energy level is good. The candidates are feeling good at the doors,” said Del Duca, who had spoken candidly four years ago about the sense of dread Liberals felt in the final days of that doomed campaign.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, whose party has not experienced the same kind of mid-campaign surge this year that it did in 2018, when the New Democrats doubled their seat count, was more sanguine and would not commit to staying at the helm of the party.
“I’m going to wait to see what the people of Ontario decide,” said Horwath, who is in her fourth campaign as leader and is already facing questions about her political future.
According to The Signal, the Star’s poll aggregator by Vox Pop Labs, the Tories have the support of 36.6 per cent of Ontarians, the Liberals are at 27.7 per cent, the NDP is at 23.1 per cent, the Greens are at 6.7 per cent, and other parties are at six per cent.
If those numbers hold, the Tories would win a majority with 75 seats in the 124-member legislature. The NDP, which has a more efficient voter base than the Liberals, would win 28, the Grits would take 20, and the Greens would win one — the Guelph seat represented by leader Mike Schreiner.
Campaigning in Oakville, a riding the Liberals lost to the Tories in the last election, an upbeat Del Duca refused to be drawn into hypothetical post-election scenarios.
“Ontario Liberals believe in letting the people of this province have their say. I know there are a lot of people following this election campaign who want to pretend that it was over before it began — that’s not what I’m seeing,” he said.
In sharp contrast to 2018, when Del Duca had confided he knew he was losing his riding to Tory Michael Tibollo because voters weren’t looking him in the eye, “there is such a positive feeling of momentum right now,” he said.
“They see me. They recognize the hairstyle,” he joked about his bald pate. “And they say right away, ‘We know the way to stop Doug Ford’s cuts in chaos is to vote Liberal.’ So it is resonating.”
But The Signal poll aggregator has Vaughan-Woodbridge “leaning PC” and an internal Conservative survey conducted May 19-20 had Tibollo at 47 per cent and Del Duca at 37 per cent.
That Campaign Research poll of 842 voters — based on 599 live phone interviews and 243 online interviews — had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. It polled both Del Duca against Ford and Del Duca versus Tibollo.
The Liberals said their Pollara Strategic Insights riding poll — details of which they would not share with the Star — showed Del Duca ahead of Tibollo in a head-to-head race.
They also maintain he plans to remain as leader regardless of what happens in Vaughan-Woodbridge.
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Although the provincewide polls showing Ford with a comfortable lead have remained steady throughout the four-week campaign, Horwath said she has her fingers crossed for a sudden, last-minute shift in public opinion.
“I’m hoping that as people reflect in the next couple of days, they see the hopefulness, because it’s not just about what’s wrong and what’s broken, it’s about the fact that there’s hope we can fix it together,” she told reporters in Ottawa.
“There’s a lot at stake in this election,” the NDP leader added, citing concerns about health care and education in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that saw more than 4,400 vulnerable seniors die in nursing homes despite Ford’s assurances of an “iron ring” to protect them.
When pressed by reporters on whether she would stay on as leader, a post she has held since 2009, Horwath appeared to hint at other opportunities.
“What I will commit to at this point is I that I will always be fighting for people, and I will always work to make life better for folks,” she said.
“It’s what I did before I was elected for the first time back in 1997 … to Hamilton city council and I’ve never stopped and I never will. It’s what makes me tick.”
Horwath has been mentioned as a possible contender for mayor of Hamilton in the Oct. 24 municipal election.
She led the NDP to 40 seats and Official Opposition status in 2018, the best showing for New Democrats since they won the 1990 election under Bob Rae.
Schreiner spent Tuesday campaigning in Parry Sound-Muskoka, a PC stronghold the Greens believe they can win thanks in part to the lack of a Liberal candidate.
That’s because the Grit was fired after the Star revealed he had written a self-published book baselessly claiming homosexuality is “caused” by infants rebreathing their own air shortly after birth.
Ford, for his part, stayed largely out of the public eye Thursday, campaigning away from prying media cameras in St. Catharines and Niagara.
The Tory leader will hold a final rally for supporters Wednesday night at the Toronto Congress Centre in Etobicoke.
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1
Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie
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