The Ontario Liberals have vaulted ahead of the governing Progressive Conservatives even though the party will not elect a new leader for another seven weeks, a new poll suggests.
According to the Pollara Strategic Insights survey, the Liberals are at 33 per cent, the Tories at 29 per cent, the New Democrats at 27 per cent, and the Greens at nine per cent.
“Despite the pretty definitive loss that they received in 2018, the Liberal brand is strong,” Pollara president Craig Worden said Wednesday.
“It does say something about the job that interim leader John Fraser has done,” said Worden, noting the Liberals will elect a new chief at a March 7 delegated convention in Mississauga.
MPPs Michael Coteau and Mitzie Hunter, former minister Steven Del Duca, past candidates Kate Graham and Alvin Tedjo, and lawyer Brenda Hollingsworth are competing in the contest.
“The Liberals have returned to first place for the first time in many, many years,” the pollster said, pointing out the Grits trailed in most surveys in their final years in office.
He said there could be a halo effect from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals who won 79 of Ontario’s 121 federal seats in the October election.
Two years ago, Premier Doug Ford’s Tories ended a provincial Liberal dynasty that dated back to 2003 under former premier Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne, with a landslide victory.
Using an online panel, Pollara surveyed 2,198 Ontarians between Jan. 6 and Jan. 11. Online samples aren’t randomly selected and cannot be assigned a margin of error. But a probability sample of this size would have a margin of error of within 2.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
“The Ford government reached a low point in the spring of 2019 and they’ve attempted a reset and they’ve been successful at stopping the bleeding,” he said, referring to Ford’s June cabinet shuffle and subsequent staff changes after a cronyism scandal.
“But the reset hasn’t taken hold. They haven’t reconnected with voters, but they have held steady since the spring. Now it’s a question of whether they can rebound in the polls.”
Worden said it remains unclear whether the current turmoil in Ontario schools is having an impact on the polling results.
“To this point the education file has been a simmering issue with flashpoints, but it will likely reach more of a boil this month and become more of a high-profile issue for the public,” he said.
That’s because all four teachers’ unions are in a legal strike position at the same time — something that last happened in 1997.
“The government’s changes to education and the related teacher job action certainly have a potential to be an obstacle to a Ford government rebound. It all depends on how parents feel (this) is affecting their kids.”
In Pollara’s May 2019 survey, Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats led with 31 per cent, the Tories were at 30 per cent, the Liberals at 26 per cent, and Mike Schreiner’s Greens at 11 per cent.
“The NDP have dropped … since the spring. These are not great numbers for the NDP — especially with a Liberal party that’s going to elect a new leader in a few weeks time,” said Worden.
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“These must be disappointing numbers for the NDP. They were successful in getting a large segment of the left-of-centre vote in the election and holding onto them for a year after the election,” he said.
“But they haven’t capitalized on that and the voters have been looking for where they should be throwing their support in the next election. They have been starting to turn back toward the Liberals.”
The next Ontario election will be in spring 2022. In the 2018 vote, the Tories won 40.5 per cent, the NDP 33.6 per cent, the Liberals 19.6 per cent, and the Greens 4.6 per cent.