Sunday, April 10, 2011

Gee Mom I Wanna Go, Back to Ontario...

It is the electoral mother-lode in Canada. With 106 seats it is, for all intents and purposes, the make or break province for a prospective government. Ontario.

Only once in our recent election history has a party formed a majority government without Ontario. That was in 1988, when Mr. Mulroney was able to overcome the province's concerns with the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement. Other than that, it's been simple. Take a strong plurality of seats in Ontario and you win.

Ontario is what gave Mr. Chretien his three majority governments. It enabled Mr. Martin to hold onto power in the post-sponsorship scandal environment. And it will be key to both Mr. Harper and Mr. Igantieff's prospects this time around.

So what are we seeing in this battleground province?

I noted yesterday that we are spending a lot of time looking at the top line, national polling results. These are interesting and fun (yes, I am a geek) to watch. However, too much focus on the national number can skew how we view an election campaign. It's like reading the headline but not the article - you get a picture, but by no means the whole picture. As a result, you can miss things.

Nationally, we see some consistency to the polling numbers. Generally, results show a 8-10 Conservative lead. Ok, fine.

However, if we look at Ontario we are seeing the results getting closer. Some polls are seeing a small Conservative lead, others show a statistical tie. This compares with the start of the campaign, at which time the Conservatives enjoyed a strong lead in the province.

What's driving the shift? A big factor is the falling support for the NDP. One element of the Liberal narrative over the first two weeks has been the portrayal of the party as the only national party able to stand up against the Conservatives. That, coupled with Mr. Igantieff trying to take notion of the coalition off the table, I think is having an effect on the NDP voter.

Similarly, the Liberal platform is strongly aligned with many traditional NDP views in areas such as education, training and families. Again, this will be attractive to the NDP voter.

What this means on election day - the only poll that matters - remains to be seen. The Conservatives are holding their vote in the province; we are not seeing any real bleeding of their support to the Liberals. However, they are not growing in any meaningful way and may in fact be close to a ceiling.

For their part, the Liberals are shoring up their urban support and pulling support from the left. Unfortunately for them, there is not enough of it to make this in and of itself a game changer.

The result? No one can count on getting a Chretien-esque motherlode of Ontario seats on May 2. Which likely means more of the same in the next Parliament.

Of course, this assumes that the debates don't spark a shift. If Mr. Ignatieff decides to really go for it, to make the case why he should be the Prime Minister, to attack Mr. Harper and say Canada can do better with him, well that might change things. It's a risk, but it really is the only option if they want to make a real shot at winning.

So, who do you think will emerge the victor in battleground Ontario. Equally important, tell me why. What will make the difference for the Ontario voter?

P.S. For more on polling, including some great analysis you should be checking out: There's a lot of information on the blog, with regular updates and seat projections incorporating the latest polls.

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