IS A DOMINANT THEME STILL RELEVANT WHEN SILLY SEASON STARTS?

In a race as tight as the 2014 Ontario election, at some point the channel changes away from deliberate campaign plans and things get nutty. In Ontario’s case, the past couple of days have borne out that shift. A secret loan bailout scandal. Accusations of Ministerial kick-back schemes. More coalition scenarios than ever contemplated. Party infighting outlined in a public letter. Unthinkable errors in platform calculations and the Twitter hashtags (#HudakMath) that go with them.

When silly season starts, does it matter that there had been a dominant theme (in this election, it’s been jobs)? Can it make a comeback? Does it even matter if the craziness continues and the leading topic is tossed aside like surplus campaign literature? Our experts argue that the key is whether the parties can capitalize on the new environment or if it is in their interest to try and take control again.

There is no disputing that jobs has been the dominant theme thus far in the Ontario Election. Tim Hudak’s Million Jobs Plan took up essentially all the space in the first half of the writ, proof that the PCs were executing on the campaign strategy they had for this election. But how are they doing now in this silly season? And is it to their benefit or detriment to be taken off their jobs messaging?

Well, it’s a mixed-bag for the PCs. On the downside, they are the subject of the biggest snafu of the campaign with the inconceivable error made in the calculation of, wait for it, A MILLION JOBS. So jobs is the topic but not in the way the PCs would want. On the upside, they have been Ford- and Harper-esque in standing their ground on their numbers while at the same time giving as good as they get on the recent Liberal MaRS loan bailout controversy. But is this the right place for the PCs to be for the next two weeks: talking about scandal vs their jobs plan? Recent examples (ie: Quebec provincial election) have shown that scandals don’t have the massive effect parties may want on voters.

So, how should the PCs proceed?

While the PCs should not miss an opportunity to hammer hard at the Liberals, they will want to ensure they tie each jab back to their core messaging (jobs, jobs, jobs) and their initial campaign strategy which was effective at achieving a key campaign goal: controlling the conversation.

While not the chosen topic (pensions and transit were at the top of the Liberal list), Liberals will say that jobs, and more specifically Tim Hudak’s Million Jobs Plan, is one of the best things to have happened to the Liberal campaign. It has been a powerful point of contrast to the Liberal’s plan for the economy. Kathleen Wynne’s brand is that she is the Premier for all of Ontario, committed to creating jobs throughout the entire province (read: in the North) and in all sectors (read: the public sector too, thank you very much).

But while the Liberals were able to capitalize on this week’s HudakMath fiasco, their moment to shine was snatched away almost instantly by the glare of MaRS.

Our advice?

The Liberals need to slingshot this MaRS issue (and any other scandals) into outer space. Fast. Then they need to start dominating on their strong points: health, education and a balanced approach.

While Tim Hudak has been discussing one million jobs, Andrea Horwath has been marching to the beat of her own drum. And it might well work for her if only she can drum loud enough to cut through the noise. Yes the NDP has been involved in some of the silliness the past couple days (kick-back accusations, coalition discussions and party infighting) but for the most part they have remained focused on their message of affordability and Liberal (un)trustworthiness (recall this is a core NDP message coming out of the decision to bring down the Budget, not a result of one-off mudslinging this week). While this wasn’t cutting through the jobs theme yet, some would argue slow and steady could win the race.

What do to now?

Our analysis says that while silly season offers some opportunity for the NDP, it’s not enough. Ms Horwath and the NDP’s brand is to focus on the middle class and provide real solutions to families. That’s what they should be talking about. If they can move the discussion there, that drummer might just punch through.