The Impact of the NDP-Liberal Agreement on the 2022 Provincial Election
At Queen’s Park, Liberals and New Democrats are sharpening their knives as they get ready to rumble for the left – or not Doug Ford – vote in Ontario’s 2022 election. Meanwhile, further north in Ottawa, Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh are new best buds. This may leave Ontarians wondering: What does it mean for the spring campaign? Read below as H+K’s team of Ontario political insiders unpacks this for you.
A Word on Coalitions
You will hear a lot about Liberal-NDP coalitions at both levels of government in the weeks and months to come. Putting aside the fact that what the federal parties have struck is not, in fact, a coalition, it is notable that, long before March 22’s announcement, both Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca pointedly refused to rule out working together to govern after the June 2 election – the way they have both ruled out propping up a Doug Ford minority. Clearly, each feels the negative connotations hung around “coalition” have worn off since Stephen Harper made it a four-letter word in 2008. four-letter word in 2008.
Regardless, the PCs (Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario) will continue to push the narrative that a vote for either the NDP or the Liberals will be a vote for both, and they have a point. In recent years the Ontario Liberal Party has moved ideologically closer to the NDP, leaving both parties fighting for the same, admittedly large, pool of voters. As a result, each party will appeal to left-leaning Ontarians by arguing they are best positioned to take down Doug Ford.
Talk of cooperation may reduce the stakes for both their voter bases even as it motivates conservatives. After all, what does it matter if a Liberal or New Democrat wins a riding, if they’re just going to work together anyway? This plays to the PC’s strategy of ensuring both parties remain viable options, splitting the vote and allowing PC candidates to come up the middle in enough ridings to win a second majority. Going forward, expect the Liberals and NDP to refuse to speak to the possibility of a coalition – and the PCs to bring it up every chance they get.
Doug Ford’s PCs
The PC government has previewed this approach during Question Period with Premier Ford referring to the “Del Duca-Wynne-Horwath government” in answer to a question about manufacturing jobs on February 24th, long before the federal deal was even announced. The PCs will use fear of voting for this Wynne-era government to appeal to centrist voters. The new deal in Ottawa makes this core campaign message more effective.
With the anticipated return to more normal voting patterns in 2022, together the Liberals and the NDP are potential threats in this election. The PCs will be forced to contest their campaign on both fronts. Ultimately, the PCs will look to hold onto what they have by encouraging voters to support the present known over the unknown future.
Ford has yet to, and is unlikely to, attack national pharmacare directly. Rather he will position himself with his base as a hard bargainer, looking to ensure the best deal for Ontarians. Although federal and provincial Conservatives are not the same, they do share a dedication to fiscal conservatism. The PCs may see merit in increased spending on health care (i.e., pharmacare) – but they want any increases to be responsible in how the money is spent. However, the federal Liberal-NDP Supply and Confidence Agreement looks to right-leaning Ontarians like a power grab by the Liberals, wrapped in profligate NDP spending. The potential of increased spending leading to higher taxes will be an unpopular issue for PC voters. And Premier Ford is keenly aware none of it can happen without provincial cooperation.
All in all, this could make the deal great news for Doug Ford. Expect to see the PC party highlighting how important it will be for Ontario’s economic prosperity to keep the PCs in government as a balance to the high-spending ways of the federal government.
Finally, PC supporters will be energized by the notion that a ‘backroom’ deal was struck which doesn’t align with what voters chose in the last federal election. This deal also impacts their federal counterparts’ chances of forming government within the next four years. That enthusiasm is unlikely to last until June of 2025 (the next anticipated federal election), but Doug Ford is ideally placed to harness it in the upcoming Ontario election.
Andrea Horwath’s NDP
News of the deal will impact Andrea Horwath and the Ontario NDP in different and contradictory ways. For starters, pharmacare and dental care, both key planks in their 2018 election platform and likely to have featured heavily in the upcoming campaign, are now off the table. While this will leave the party with an opportunity to roll out new promises, such as their recently announced commitment to bring mental health care into the Ontario Health Insurance Program under a new organization called Mental Health Ontario, doing so at this late hour could prove problematic.
Past practice for the party under current campaign director Michael Balagus has been to release the platform in advance of the election. If the party does hope to follow that tradition for this election, they will have had just a few short weeks to come up with replacement policies in health care. The rushed timing on an issue that is likely to be central to the upcoming campaign leaves open the possibility for serious mistakes – policy and political – in drafting new ideas, let alone costing them. Such problems have plagued the NDP in the past and play a role in the continued narrative about their unpreparedness for government.
On the other hand, if Ontarians look at the federal deal and see what Jagmeet Singh, a former Ontario MPP, has been able to deliver from opposition, it may get them wondering what a government led by the NDP could offer. That would be great news for the Ontario NDP and we can already see them pushing the narrative in that direction. In fact, Jagmeet Singh and his accomplishments with this deal were raised repeatedly at the party’s first campaign rally of this election cycle on April 3. In an election that seems destined to focus on the challenges our health care and long-term care systems are facing, the idea of an electorate that is hopeful for the possibility of big, progressive change would be music to the ears of NDP strategists. If instead the electorate is focused on the fear of what new spending will mean for their bank accounts, the NDP – and Andrea Horwath’s leadership – will be in deep trouble.
Steven Del Duca’s Liberals
The political fallout from the confidence and supply agreement will mainly land on Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, for good or ill. Expect their Ontario cousins to be watching closely: voters don’t always clearly differentiate between provincial and federal parties, and momentum for the federal government may lend some shine to the Ontario Liberals – who will be happy to remind you that they started this ball rolling with OHIP+. On the other hand, if Ontarians balk at the agreement with the NDP and putative costs of pharmacare, expect a quick reshuffling of Steven Del Duca’s message deck.
The Liberals will argue they are best positioned to work with their federal counterparts to deliver on the promise of pharmacare. Steven Del Duca had blasted Ford for refusing to sign on to the federal plan for $10-dollar-a-day child care for months after other provinces had joined up, and will likewise suggest to Ontarians they will risk being once again left waiting under a PC government.
The good news for Ontario Liberals is that there’s nowhere to go but up. Their goal is to bring prodigal Liberal voters home – mostly from the NDP. While the possibility of cooperation with New Democrats will make it harder to argue a vote for the Liberals is essential to stopping Doug Ford, buoyancy resulting from federal action on pharmacare has the potential to galvanize the Liberal base and put more GTA ridings in their column. It doesn’t hurt to remind left-of-centre voters what it looks like when a Liberal government takes strong action on popular spending priorities.
Stay tuned to hkstrategies.ca for more information on what’s next and what it will mean for Ontario, our health care system, and your public affairs + advocacy work at that intersection.
Authored by: Matt Boudreau, Alexandra Valcour, and Patrick Rooney