Why federal Liberal voters are key to Doug Ford's Ontario election chances
Polls suggest 20-25 per cent of Ontarians who backed Justin Trudeau's party last year plan to vote PC
Doug Ford and his Ontario Progressive Conservatives are aiming to draw a significant amount of support from voters who only eight months ago backed Justin Trudeau's Liberal Party in the federal election.
Winning over federal Liberal voters is a crucial ingredient for Ford to find a path to victory on June 2. The Ontario PCs simply cannot succeed with only the backing of those who voted for the Conservative Party of Canada last September.
"There's just not enough (core) Conservatives in the province for you to win a majority government or even a minority government with them alone," said David Coletto, CEO of polling firm Abacus Data.
Recent polling by Abacus Data as well as by the polling firm Research Co. found that roughly one-fifth to one-quarter of Ontarians who voted Liberal in last year's federal election say they intend to vote for the PC Party in the provincial election.
That translates into a potential 500,000 voters who backed Trudeau in 2021 casting their ballots for Ford's party in 2022.
"It's definitely a large chunk of the electorate that would make the difference in some of the key ridings," said Mario Canseco, a veteran pollster and president of Research Co.
Direct comparisons between the federal and provincial races are possible because the riding maps are nearly identical, with the exception of northern Ontario where there are three extra provincial seats.
The federal Liberals took 39.3 per cent of the popular vote in Ontario last fall, delivering 78 seats, including a sweep of Toronto and dominance in the 905.
Under Erin O'Toole, the federal Conservatives attracted 34.9 per cent of the province's voters, winning 37 seats.
The CBC News Ontario Poll Tracker, which aggregates publicly availably polling, is currently describing Ford's PCs as on track to win another majority government, with Steven Del Duca's Ontario Liberals and Andrea Horwath's NDP still locked in a battle to form the Official Opposition.
Sources in the PC campaign have indicated for months that the Ford government's approach to certain issues was influenced by a desire to make federal Liberal voters accessible to the party come election time. That included Ford's stance on mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for his MPPs and candidates and his eventual change of heart on vaccine passports in Ontario.
PC strategists believe O'Toole's stance on those two matters hurt his federal Conservative campaign in Ontario.
From their data, the two pollsters have some insights into why these federal Liberal voters are prepared to vote PC in the provincial race. A common theme is how these voters feel about Ford's performance as premier and their views of Del Duca as leader.
"Unless they think poorly of Mr. Ford, they're not going to be ready to be looking for an alternative, and I think that's a big part of the story in this campaign so far," said Coletto.
"They generally like Doug Ford personally," he went on. "They see him as a strong leader, they say they have a favourable view of him. They think he'd make the best premier out of all the other choices available."
Nearly half of the federal Liberal/provincial Conservative switchers surveyed in the Abacus polling self-identify as members of a racialized community, said Coletto.
For his part, Canseco says the combination of factors at play include that federal Liberal voters flirting with the PCs "haven't really established an emotional connection" with Del Duca.
Until recently, many observers would have struggled to imagine much overlap in a Venn diagram of federal Liberal and provincial Conservative voters.
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In 2018, Ford was not trying to woo federal Liberals. He didn't really need to, as the PCs rode to victory largely on a wave of antipathy toward former premier Kathleen Wynne.
Ford peppered Trudeau with attacks on carbon pricing during his 2018 bid for the PC leadership, then the ensuing provincial campaign, and continued throughout the first half of his term as premier. Then in 2019, with Ford dismally unpopular, Trudeau bashed him at nearly every Ontario stop of the federal campaign.
While the two political rivals engaged in a fair amount of federal-provincial finger-pointing during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially over the vaccine rollout, border controls and the use of rapid tests, they reached a certain level of détente by the time Trudeau called the federal election last year.
Since March, Ford has shared the stage with Trudeau or his Liberal cabinet ministers in a series of joint funding announcements, worth well into the billions of dollars. Several related to the auto sector in Oshawa, Alliston and twice in Windsor, including one just two days before the provincial campaign began, while others focused on transit and child care.
The appearance of Ford co-operating with Trudeau on these projects may have made it easier for the PC Party to woo those federal Liberal voters.
The potential that so many could set aside their federal party allegiance when it comes to the provincial election can't help but be a frustration for Del Duca, although he didn't say so when asked.
"With two weeks to go (until election day), standing here and presuming that we know how anybody in this province is going to vote, I think we're getting a little bit ahead of ourselves," Del Duca told a news conference in Mississauga.
Del Duca said "people who voted for every party federally" are hearing his message and understand what is at stake in the provincial campaign.
Del Duca needs to hope there aren't too many voters out there like Abdul Aleem, an appliance repairman who lives in the King-Vaughan riding in York Region, just north of Toronto.
Aleem says he voted Liberal in the last federal election and will "most likely" vote PC provincially.
"I don't just look at the party," he said, and praised both Trudeau and Ford's response to the COVID-19 pandemic in explaining the reasons behind his voting choice.
"Doug Ford — he was very calm during the pandemic, he did not panic," Aleem said. "Both our provincial government and our federal government, they have done a tremendous job. I have no complaint about both, honestly."