Roughly half of voters in Toronto — a traditional Liberal stronghold – would cast ballots for the Tories with less than a year to go before Ontarians head to the polls, according to a new public-opinion survey.
Among decided and leaning voters, 49 per cent said they would vote for the Progressive Conservatives if the next election – scheduled for June 7, 2018 – were held today, while 31 per cent would support the Grits. Fifteen per cent said they would opt for the New Democrats and 5 per cent would pick the Green Party.
That’s the upshot from a Mainstreet Research poll provided exclusively to QP Briefing Monday. Pollsters surveyed 2,000 Torontonians on July 9 and July 10 via landlines and cellphones, and the poll is considered accurate within 2.19 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Broken down by neighbourhood, support for the Grits was highest in the downtown core, at 37 per cent, but that wasn't enough to best the Tories, who came up with 43 per cent. The majority of folks in North York and Etobicoke said they preferred the PCs – 54 per cent and 50 per cent, respectively.
“(PC Leader) Patrick Brown and that team is doing a good job in terms of penetrating in the 416 – no previous (Conservative) party or leader has been able to do that,” Quito Maggi, president of Mainstreet, said in an interview. “These numbers should be very, very concerning if you’re a Liberal anywhere, but especially in Toronto.”
At first blush, Maggi was surprised at the overwhelming PC popularity in traditional Liberal bastions, pointing to one hint last September when PC MPP Raymond Cho wrested the the long-held Scarborough—Rouge River seat from the Liberals. He chalked the latest numbers up to a big advertising push featuring three videos the Tories have been airing that helps to build Brown’s brand for an electorate that is mostly clueless on his identity.
“There is a distaste for the current governing party and the Liberals, but in terms of what the other options out there are, there’s a lot of question marks in people’s minds,” Maggi said. “As people get to know Patrick Brown, some of them are liking him, some of them are not … The advertising, I think, is helping, but these numbers are just awful news for the Liberals.
“When we were seeing very large PC leads – right across the province – the one stronghold was always that the Liberals could still sweep the 416. These numbers (are) clearly showing that’s no longer the case,” he said.
And with election day inching closer, nearly one-quarter – 23 per cent – of Torontonians don’t know which political party they’ll cast ballots for, the poll said.
That number may shrink when the campaigns ramp up, Maggi said, and presents an opportunity for the PCs to pick up even more steam, particularly downtown and when it comes to environmental policy.
The carbon question
Mainstreet also gauged how Toronto feels about the Liberal government’s cap-and-trade program. Forty-six per cent said they strongly or somewhat disapproved of the government’s plan to combat climate change by putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions and requiring that businesses pay to emit them beyond the capped amount, or 142.3 megatonnes for 2017. Thirty-seven per cent approve of the program and 16 per cent aren't sure what to make of it.
What’s more is that cap and trade has turned off 31 per cent of potential Liberal backers, per the poll. Thirty-seven per cent were indifferent, neither more or less likely to vote for the Grits because of cap and trade.
Brown’s pledge to abolish the Liberals’ version of carbon pricing and replace it with a revenue-neutral carbon tax has also gained traction in the big smoke, even if it has alienated some in his own party base. But Maggi said that could translate to ballots on election day in The 6.
Twenty-nine per cent of Torontonians would vote for the Tories if they’d scrap cap-and-trade, while 25 per cent would be less likely, the poll said. The promised carbon tax itself would rally 16 per cent of voters to the PC camp, but repel another 26 per cent. Forty-one per cent weren't swayed either way on the tax proposal.
"PC supporters in Ontario will see it as good politics in terms of building a bigger tent – and that he's most certainly done," Maggi said.
Mainstreet's numbers echo a string of surveys over several months that show the Grits lagging behind the Tories.
For instance, a Forum Research poll earlier this month showed 38 per cent of Torontonians would vote PC, 32 per cent would pick the Grits and 21 per cent would cast their ballots for the NDP. A Mainstreet survey in February suggested Liberals were clinging to support in Toronto’s downtown core, but dwindling in neighbourhoods on the outskirts, such as in Etobicoke, Scarborough and North York.
Another Forum survey in June – at the tail end of a stream of policy goodies to come out of the Grit arsenal, including an affordable housing plan, a $15 minimum wage, pharmacare for children and youth, as well as a balanced budget for the first time in almost a decade – had the Liberals and PCs in a dead heat, with each receiving 34 per cent support in the 416.
“(The sweeping policy announcements) was just not being taken into account whatsoever by the voting public. That may change in the context of a campaign … Right now, it’s all noise. Anything [Premier] Kathleen Wynne or the Ontario Liberals announce is just dismissed as: This is them trying to buy our votes,” Maggi said.
Another story that has failed to resonate deeply with the public is the drama swirling around certain PC nomination races, including in Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas, Ottawa West—Nepean and Newmarket—Aurora. Maggi said people generally view such controversy as growing pains associated with building a bigger tent, and he doesn’t expect it will translate to voter intention or hurt Brown’s brand.
The potential for blowback has more to do with the party rank and file as many Conservatives are opposed to any sort of carbon pricing plan.
“If anything is going to be dangerous to affecting his base, it’s going to be that,” Maggi said. Among PC supporters, 47 per cent strongly or somewhat disapproved of Brown’s plan to implement a carbon tax. Forty per cent approved and 13 per cent didn’t know how to feel about it.
Mainstreet’s poll comes on the same day Environment and Climate Change Minister Glen Murray stepped down from cabinet and announced his resignation as Toronto Centre MPP as of Sept. 1.
Maggi said the loss could harm the Grits chances of securing the long-held riding next spring (Wynne said she won't call a byelection to fill Murray's spot so close to the general election due to the associated cost) because, generally speaking, the fewer well-known incumbents on the ticket, the easier it is for other party candidates to steal the seat.
For example soon-to-be-retired MPP Monte Kwinter, the oldest politician in Queen's Park history, polled more popularly than his own party in York Centre, where he has carried the Liberal banner since 1985.
"The cumulative effect of all those incumbents across the province, Glen Murray included, potentially not running is going to have a negative effect right across the province for Kathleen Wynne.
"The more incumbents she can convince to remain will increase her chances of ... reducing the number of losses you're going to have across the province in 2018," Maggi said, adding he doesn't think the Liberals have "a remote chance" of forming government next year.
Correction: This story has been updated to show that 47 per cent of PC supporters strongly or somewhat disapproved of Brown's plan to implement a carbon tax, not 71 per cent as originally written.
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