After watching the first Ontario election debate between Kathleen Wynne, Doug Ford, and Andrea Horwath I have to be honest, I can’t really tell you who won, but I can absolutely say without any sense of doubt who lost.
Moody’s Investors’ Service has changed the outlook on the province of Ontario’s economic future from “stable” to “negative” in the wake of the Liberals’ March 28th spending plan, featuring a projected $6.7-billion deficit. Kathleen Wynne’s election chances seem to perfectly mirror our province’s current financial state. To be clear, that is to say they are in rapid freefall.
Going into the first debate Maclean’s projected the following results::
Given these numbers, all Ford needs to do to win is to remain the most viable anti-Wynne, absorb as many centre-right voters as possible without alienating them due to his policies on austerity and cuts, without losing support from the conservative base in Ontario.
I believe he did this effortlessly and effectively by continuously bringing up the deficit and the lingering costs left behind by the governing Liberals. I believe Doug also made an important but dangerous gambit by clearly stating that zero jobs will be cut as a result of his cost savings plans. While this may stave off some attempts to brand him as a job-killer it would likely cause significant problems for him if he becomes Premier.
On the other side of things, in order for Andrea Horwath and the NDP to win, they need to show the left-flank of the Liberal base that they can adequately enact a progressive agenda without the corruption and ideological watering-down that are part and parcel of Liberals’ M.O.
For Andrea, the NDP and the Left, I believe a clear victory was had at the expense of Kathleen Wynne.
As almost every time Ford and Wynne descended into mudslinging over backroom deals, she simply stayed out of it.
It was an interesting strategy and I’m sure it won some viewers over; but is it enough for Horwath to pull enough voters to their side on election day?
At this moment I highly doubt it, mainly just because I thought Doug Ford actually did quite well. Surprisingly well. He made grand promises such as a $5 billion dollar subway extension, alongside pledges to not cut jobs, fix the hydro system, etc.
This in most regards places Doug along the same lines of all three candidates when it comes to promising new services, making it extremely difficult to actually break his already large base.
Secondly, the Liberal party has an extensive and powerful ground-game that has been developed over the last 15 years. It is a political machine which is far superior when compared to the campaigning capability of the NDP, and will make it far more difficult for Andrea Horwath to actually flip ridings which are historically very Liberal.
For these reasons, I believe that we will see Kathleen Wynne’s base slowly melt away between the more energized Ford and Horwath campaigns, but that ultimately a majority Ford government is on the other side of this election.