Kitchener-Waterloo·Q&A

Pandemic will produce a very different provincial election in 2022, U of Guelph prof says

A year is a long time in politics and it's hard to say what exactly June 2022 will look like, but University of Guelph political science professor Tamara Small says politicians should be prepared to answer post-pandemic questions about what went wrong, and impacts to education and the economy.

Voters will have questions about pandemic, but also economy, education and more, says Tamara Small

Ontario PC Leader Doug Ford, second left, reacts with his family after winning the Ontario election on June 7, 2018. (Nathan Denette / Canadian Press)

The next provincial election is just under a year away, set for on or before June 2, 2022.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed Ontario's political landscape and has affected Premier Doug Ford's government's agenda non-stop for the past 15 months. 

Tamara Small, an associate professor of political science at the University of Guelph, joined CBC K-W's The Morning Edition host Craig Norris to talk about what people can expect from the government over the next 12 months and the other parties that would like to beat the Progressive Conservatives in 2022.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Craig Norris: We are just basically a year out from voting day, June 2nd, 2022. In your view, how are Premier Doug Ford and the PCs doing right now? 

Tamara Small: They're doing OK. They are still in first place in the polls. 

But if you look at the polling data, there's been a steady decline over the last couple of months. So that's something for them to be concerned about. 

Certainly I think the other issue is Doug Ford's own personal popularity, which has decreased quite considerably over the year. Last year, around this time people were feeling really positive about him. The last couple of months have been a real problem for him personally and so that's also something that they need to consider. 

Tamara Small, associate professor in the department of political science at the University of Guelph, says while she is supportive of new parties, in practical politics, it’s difficult for a lot of them to be really successful. (Submitted by Tamara Small)

CN: He is not the first leader, though, to end up being less popular than their party. Is that the kind of thing that ultimately can cost someone an election? 

TS: Not really. Generally, Canadians tend to be sort of focused on party. Those who are partisan vote for the party, then leader, then candidate. 

So in the situation where you have a party that is really, really popular and with a less popular leader, it probably is only going to … [be] a little bit of an issue. But if you have a party [where] it's a bit sort of tense around the edges, a leader could have a bigger impact. 

CN: What impact do you think the pandemic will have on voting, if it's a year from now? 

TS: We are now in our third wave in Ontario. I think people are feeling a number of conflicting feelings about the third lockdown. 

But depending on where the pandemic actually is, in terms of the election, are we in a sixth wave? Or are we post pandemic?

[If that's the case] It's going to be like, how do we fix long-term care? How do we fix the economy? How do we fix education? All the things that we learned about our society in the pandemic, how do we deal with those things? 

This is about who's going to be the best person to be the steady hand to drive us through. 

CN: Where do the Opposition NDP fit into this narrative? 

TS: So the Opposition NDP is [polling] in their traditional place, which is in third place, which I think is probably very disappointing for them in the sense that, you know, they are the official Opposition and so they were [elected], right now, as the second place party. 

Traditionally, Ontario has sort of flipped back and forth between the Progressive Conservatives and the Liberals over the last, I would say, 25 years. But the NDP [has] sort of being a very stable, solid third party, with the exception of the last election.

So they have some work to do to convince those voters who came from the Liberals last time to stick with them. And there's also the Green Party sort of mixed in there. 

So there's going to be quite a bit of an interesting dynamic on the left. 

CN: Andrea Horwath has been the NDP leader, next year, it'll be 13 years. Is this election a do or die for her leadership? 

TS: There are some parties that [if they don't win] that election, they dump a leader immediately. And the NDP in Ontario has not been that [party].

Lots of things have to happen for party leaders to leave. There needs to be a clear line of succession, needs to be sort of whether or not they blame this person for the loss. 

To be an opposition leader is probably very difficult at this time because this is a time when people want to hear from the government. Official sources are really what people are really sort of clamouring for.

The attention that they're getting by the media is just not going to be to the same extent as it would be in normal times because of the pandemic. 

CN: The Liberals were decimated in the last election. Now they have just eight seats. How realistic is a comeback for the Liberals? 

TS: Well, again, it's hard to know how this is all going to go, but the Liberals, what I'm seeing with the resurgence of their poll numbers is that perhaps the Liberal brand was not as damaged as we thought in 2018. 

So it's possible that people will take another look at the Liberals this time around, certainly. Steven Del Duca has work to do in terms of name recognition. It's going to be difficult. He is not even in the legislature. He's the third party leader. 

So there are lots of things making it more difficult for people to learn about him. But I think there are some opportunities for the Liberals, depending on how they want to proceed. 

Listen to the full interview:

There's less than a year to go until Ontario's provincial election. University of Guelph's Tamara Small looks at the pandemic's political highs and lows and whether Doug Ford's Progressive Conservatives can hold onto power. 9:37

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