Premier Wynne dismisses polls and eyes re-election

It has to be one of the most amusing quotes to be found on the pages of a newspaper in decades.

“I don’t think there’s anyone under any illusion that we’ve got this in the bag,” Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said after a 30-minute campaign-style speech to supporters at her Liberal party’s annual meeting Saturday in Toronto.

She’s kidding right? She has to be kidding. Apparently, she was talking her party’s chances in the next provincial election which has to be held on or before June 7.

‎In a nod to polls that show her personal popularity low and the Liberals neck-and-neck with the Conservatives, Wynne reminded Liberal activists from across the province that she lost her first election in 1994 by just 72 votes.

“Stay out to knock on just one more door, or five more or maybe 20 more,” she told more than 1,000 cheering supporters in a Toronto hotel ballroom that was two-thirds full.

But looking at the polls, Wynne’s chances are anything but in the bag.

In a random sampling of public opinion taken by The Forum Poll among 861 Ontario voters, amongst those decided and leaning, four in 10 (40 per cent) say they would support the PCs, down five points since October (Oct 26: 45 per cent). The NDP and Ontario Liberals are statistically tied again, but with a slightly higher share of the vote for the NDP, with a quarter (26 per cent) for the NDP and a quarter (24 per cent) for the Liberals. Since October, the NDP are up four points (Oct 26: 22 per cent) and the Liberals are unchanged (Oct 26: 24 per cent).

An Ipsos-Reid poll taken for Global News didn’t offer any better news for Wynne and her Liberals. It indicated if an election was held tomorrow, the PCs under Patrick Brown would win with 36 per cent of the decided voters (down three points since September). The NDP under Andrea Horwath, however, are up six points, sitting at 28 per cent. That finding ties them with Wynne and the Liberals, who have dropped four percentage points. But overall, 81 per cent of residents polled said they believe it is time for another party to take over. That has to be troubling for Wynne.

“People (are) feeling like they’re not sure what’s coming next,” Wynne told Global News in a recent year-end interview. “That uncertainty – that’s the environment we are operating in. So whether the ballot question will be about jobs or whether it’ll be a cost of living, it will be in that area because it’s that uncertainty.”

But in Toronto Saturday, she seemed to indicate a change in government after the next election would be scary.

“There’s a lot a‎t stake on June 7,” Wynne told The Star.

“We are changing lives for the better, today, right now,” she added, making a case for decisions  such as the minimum wage surge by $2.40 an hour to $14 in January, with another $1 increase slated for next year.

“There is a place for government — a need for government — to be involved in tackling these big issues that people simply can’t solve alone.”

Wynne has also been reminding voters of her decisions to provide free medications for young people up to age 25 and free tuition for students who come from low-income families.

But is it enough? Business leaders are still fuming about minimum wage hikes. They have raised concerns the rapid rise in the minimum wage has made it hard for employers to adjust, putting tens of thousands of jobs in jeopardy.

Brown promised in his party’s election platform that the $14 minimum wage would stay, but raising it to $15 would take place over the next few years in 25-cent increments.

Wynne warned party activists to stay strong for tougher shots from critics as the election approaches.

“Some do it in the newspapers. Some do it on Twitter. Some do it from behind a podium in their mother’s basement,” the premier added to laughs from the crowd, in a shot of her own at PC leadership candidate Doug Ford, the former Toronto city councillor and brother of late Toronto mayor Rob Ford.

Meanwhile, popularity of Horwath is the “wildcard,” according to Ipsos Global Affairs CEO Darrell Bricker. He emphasized that Wynne isn’t very popular and Brown is still relatively unknown. Forty-one per cent of voters believe that Horwath would make the best premier, 37 per cent believe in Brown and Wynne sits well behind at 22 per cent.

What these numbers say is that there is “ample opportunity for these results to shift as the election draws nearer and Ontarians become more familiar with the candidates, leaders and platforms.”

Bricker said the key will be in how the candidates perform during the campaign.

“While Wynne seems to be in a difficult spot, campaigns in Ontario have proven to be highly volatile,” he said. “Wynne is a very tough, proven campaigner.”

Wynne is in a difficult spot? Ontario is highly volatile? But this thing is “in the bag” isn’t it?

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Jeff Wilkinson

About the Author: Jeff Wilkinson

Jeff Wilkinson is a retired Canadian journalist who covered a wide range of political stories over a 35-year career in newspapers and radio. He was at Place du Canada in Montreal in 1995 for the Unity rally on the eve of the Quebec referendum. He interviewed former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and numerous cabinet ministers, provincial premiers and many other key political figures both provincially and federally. Most recently he served in the Press Operations Crews at the 2015 Pan Am Games and 2017 Invictus Games.
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