Today’s Leger Marketing poll, as well as a recent Nanos poll, both confirmed that healthcare continues to rank as the number one campaign issue for Ontarians. Yet, up until now, there has been very little attention given to the issue by the parties and the media.  That is about to change.
Today, the Ontario Liberals have launched what is expected to be a week-long effort to highlight their record on healthcare. They will try to remind voters of how healthcare fared under the PC government of Mike Harris.  At a campaign stop at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty took aim at PC Leader Tim Hudak, suggesting that a PC government would once again close Ontario hospitals.
Echoing a refrain that has already been heard in his campaign ads, McGuinty claimed that the previous PC government closed 28 hospitals, while the Liberals have built 18 new hospitals.
Of course, the PC platform carries nary a mention of hospital closures to come.  Nor are the Tories proposing to cut healthcare spending. In fact, they essentially commit to matching the Liberals proposed healthcare spending increases.
So, what gives?  Clearly, McGuinty and the Ontario Liberal campaign are looking to capitalize on the favourable comparisons of their healthcare record as compared to that of the PCs, including the fact that the Liberals have taken Ontario from “worst to first” on surgical wait times and dramatically increased access to primary care.  But there’s more than this:  the polling data shows that McGuinty is trusted more on healthcare than Hudak is.  And, coupled with the Liberal charge that the Tories have a $14B hole in their platform costing, they see the opportunity to mine that well of mistrust and suggest that the PCs have a secret agenda to close hospitals in order to bridge the fiscal gap.
But will it work?  The Liberals certainly have a good story to tell.   Lower wait times, new hospitals, more nurses, expanded home care services and more doctors will universally be seen as good things.  And, the fact that the newspaper headlines are no longer screaming as loudly about hospitals coming apart at the seams (a fairly common occurrence in the 90s) can’t hurt.  There are some bumps on the road, however.  Questions about the value of the government’s Local Health Integration Networks, which Hudak promised to scrap as useless “bureaucracy”, and the lingering taint of the eHealth scandal are both things that may well trip up the Liberal’s narrative as healthcare heroes.
We will have to wait and see.
This post was originally written by Jason Grier, who is no longer working at Hill+Knowlton.