A new Forum Research poll shows the Ontario Liberals have crept up in popularity. They are now just ahead of the NDP. Both are still far behind the Tories. Queen's Park analyst Robert Fisher talks about what might be behind the latest jump in pubic support for Kathleen Wynne's Ontario Liberal party.

Fisher spoke with the CBC's Conrad Collaco about the new poll and the decision by Ontario NDP Deputy Leader Jagmeet Singh to run for the leadership of the federal party to replace Tom Mulcair. Listen to the full interview by clicking the image at the top of the page, or read an edited and abridged transcript below.

Robert Fisher, Ontario politics analyst

Robert Fisher

Veteran political analyst Robert Fisher delivers his insights into Ontario politics every two weeks. (CBC)

A Forum Research poll done May 9th found the Conservatives in the lead with 41 percent support, followed by the Liberals at 28 and the NDP at 23. It was a change from a March poll that showed the Liberals in third place. Why do you think the Liberals have rebounded?

It's a snapshot in time. If they were to take a poll today who knows what the numbers might be. Considering the timing of the poll, taken right after the budget, you must say the numbers must in some way reflect the budget. The poll found that there was "major support" for the Liberal pharmacare plan and for the expansion of rent control. These numbers are a long way away from the numbers in the Forum March poll. The question now is can the government continue what appears to be upward movement. Even senior Liberals will acknowledge privately that there is a long, hard road back to the top for Kathleen Wynne.   

This week at Queen's Park news came of a leaked report saying rates will skyrocket in 2022. The Liberals say it's an old document. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called for the legislature to sit for an extra week to address the issue. Why are we still waiting for the Liberals to pass the cut in hydro rates they've been promising for months?

If you have a majority government you can do what you want. Earlier in the week the budget was passed. The government used its majority. They could do the same with hydro. There will be more public hearings next week on hydro and maybe the whole plan is not yet put together. The opposition asked and asked and asked all week for cost numbers on the hydro plan but they were never delivered while the government denied the numbers in the leaked report.

At some point the hydro plan is going to be in place because the government is absolutely committed to having a 24 percent rate cut in place by the summer. If you're Kathleen Wynne and have a 15 percent approval rating it's a promise you'd better keep.

If this legislation doesn't get passed before the summer break will the Liberals pay for that delay?

Yes and no. At some point the government will pass it. Andrea Horwath tried and failed to get the legislature to sit an extra week. It's not that the opposition is against cutting rates. The opposition has long called for rate cuts. They are concerned that if we have a cut now what will happen after the next election, say four years from now after the next election. The public hearings will answer some questions and the government will provide more details at some point but ultimately the plan will go ahead.  

How are the party leaders doing in the polls?

For the Liberals the long road back to the top includes dealing with Kathleen Wynne's popularity. At 15 percent approval that's a problem when we are about a year from an election. The disapproval of Kathleen Wynne is at 70 percent, sort of historic highs. Patrick Brown and Andrea Horwath have more positives than negatives. They are pretty close together in the category of who would make the best premier. The poll also indicates that both are still, for many people in Ontario, largely unknown. They have some work to do.

In partial defence of the two opposition leaders historically Ontarians don't pay a lot of attention to provincial politics between elections. While Ms. Horwath has been around for a long time it would be a concern to both parties that there is a lack of identifiability particularly for Patrick Brown. Lots of work for them to do between now and June 2018.

One other change at Queen's Park this week was the announcement by now former NDP deputy leader Jagmeet Singh that he's running for the federal NDP leadership. How do you see that affecting the provincial NDP?

I don't see this as Mr. Singh abandoning Andrea Horwath in her hour of need. He had flirted with the federal party before. In 2015 there was a lot of talk he would be a candidate. Instead he stayed at Queen's Park and was offered and accepted a role as deputy leader. He's going to keep his seat as an MPP for Bramalea-Gore-Malton and should he fail I've been told he'll run provincially. If Ms. Horwath fails to bring her party at least to official opposition in the next election she is probably going to be history. Guess who will be there to seek the provincial party leadership. None other than Jagmeet Singh. He's collected many IOU's, politically speaking, in Ontario and other provinces as well. He thinks long range and maybe he's got his eyes on the first prize in Ottawa and prize 1A at Queen's Park. 

He has already affected the federal race in that he is a candidate who is very different from the others who are there including wearing the turban, the custom-made suits, the appearance in Gentleman's Quarterly Magazine — not too many New Democrat candidates appear in Gentleman's Quarterly Magazine. 

Mr Singh is very interesting guy. He is fluently bilingual. My Francophone friends tell me his French is more than passable. He campaigned for the NDP in Alberta and in the last B.C. election. He's well known in Ontario in his role as deputy leader. He's going to make a difference in the campaign. He might not win but he'll raise his profile.

Another interesting note on his resume — He's a trained mixed-marital arts fighter in Brazilian jiu-jitsu as well...

Yes. He'd be up against the boxer in Justin Trudeau. Boxing over jiu-jitsu or jiu-jitsu over boxing? Nevertheless, he's all of that and more. That makes him an interesting and unique candidate in any race he's in. 

Jagmeet Singh

Jagmeet Singh is a lawyer and deputy leader of the Ontario NDP. He speaks French and Punjabi and has represented a Brampton riding in the provincial legislature since 2011. (Mike Crawley/CBC)