The Ontario election campaign hit a milestone Tuesday with the televised Leaders’ debate, and its impact will be felt well beyond the province’s borders.
There were some memorable moments in the debate, including an apology from Premier Wynne for her government’s past spending on gas plants; an offer from PC Leader Tim Hudak to resign if performance does not deliver results, and a plea for voter consideration from NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. The party operatives will now ‘spin’ the results to their supporters and the undecided over the next few days, in a ‘just in time effort’ to crystalize the choice for voters.
At the federal level, parties are well into the planning stages for next year’s general election, and we can expect some of the updated Ontario campaign techniques to be used by those parties. Among other things, they are tracking social media campaign techniques used in the Ontario election campaign, the impact of micro-targeting on voter intentions and tracking non-political opponents such as unions and the Ontario Provincial Police and their negative attack ads to determine what to prepare for in the next federal election. Additionally, all of the federal parties are on the ground in the two federal by-elections being held in Ontario (Trinity-Spadina and Scarborough) and are seeing first hand some of the techniques being used to engage voters.
Beyond techniques, however, the policy paradigm is of equal interest to federal parties and strategists.
Each will analyze how Ontario voters respond to the polarized debate between the Liberals and the PCs over spending priorities versus budget cuts. Post-election focus groups will be held by federal and provincial parties, along with analysis of voter tracking programs, to dissect what attracted voters and what changed voter support. They will dig deep to find out if voters embraced the Hudak jobs plan and will measure if the Liberal proposal for an Ontario Pension Plan resonated with voters. And they will look at whether the dollars promised to support infrastructure and transportation investments swayed any voters.
For the business community, intent on moving its agenda federally and provincially, it will be critical to analyze the Ontario election outcome to see what changed, to understand which policies resonated with voters (and which did not) and to determine the composition of the new government’s voter base. Understanding who voted for the government and why will help business leaders frame their relationship with the next Ontario parliament. Equally important, it will help them in their dealings at the federal level, because the coalition that elects the Ontario Premier will have sway not only at Queen’s Park but also in Ottawa.