If we have learned nothing else from the most recent national elections in Canada and the United States, it is that campaigns still matter.
When the American political season began, Donald Trump was a joke. He was a rich, vulgar, sexist, ego-driven real estate developer and reality TV performer. He was not given a serious chance of defeating a field of conventional Republicans for the party nomination. But he proved the pollsters and pundits wrong by out-campaigning his opponents. Then he did the same to Hillary Clinton last November, out-campaigning her where it mattered most – in the Rust Belt states.
Trump is still rich, vulgar, sexist and ego-driven – not to mention ill-informed and unpredictable – but he is president of the United States.
In Canada, Justin Trudeau and the Liberals were mired in third place in 2015. But they took advantage of an unusually long campaign – a strategic error by then Prime Minister Stephen Harper – to exploit voter fatigue with Harper. They caught up and won going away.
This brings us to Kathleen Wynne and her Ontario Liberals, who face a general election on June 7, 2018. As Trudeau was, she is deep in third place. The big difference, of course, is that Trudeau had the luxury of campaigning against an unpopular government. Wynne doesn’t have that luxury. Hers is the unpopular government that, according to Forum Research, has the support of just 19 per cent of Ontario voters. Forum projects the Liberals would win only seven (of 122 seats), thereby losing official party status, if led by Wynne, whose disapproval rating now is a staggering 79 per cent.
Judging from media coverage, almost one, except Wynne, believes she can win again next year. The Toronto Star, which keeps its finger close to the pulse of Ontario Liberal Party, reported in a front-page page story last week that “more than a dozen” Liberal caucus members (none named) are considering not running again for fear of losing their seats. One loyalist (also not named) was reported by the newspaper as saying he (or she) believed the premier “will do the right thing.” That’s usually code for “resign.”
Over at the other end of the media spectrum, the National Post, which has never met a Liberal it could abide, reported with relish that Wynne is in a death spiral, just like Hillary Clinton.
A more measured assessment comes from Conservative backroom strategist Jaime Watt, who has fought enough political wars to be skeptical of the findings of pollsters and the opinions of pundits. In the Sunday Star yesterday, he argued that it is far too early to count Wynne out.
“She is a strong campaigner and an effective communicator,” Watt wrote. “She is capable and incredibly hard-working. The biggest mistake the Progressive Conservatives can make is to forget about Wynne’s potential as a candidate.”
He’s right about that. Wynne proved her mettle when she took a minority Liberal government that she had inherited from Dalton McGuinty and turned it into a solid Wynne majority in 2014.
She’s a smart politician. As Watt noted, she is already putting in place a game plan that she believes will lead to victory.
She has moved to counter public unhappiness about the cost of electricity with steps to reduce hydro rates by 25 per cent. Last week she unveiled a package of 16 measures designed to cool down the overheated housing market in the Toronto area.
Her finance minister Charles Sousa will bring down a balanced budget this week. She plans to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour. And she will propose the initiation of a guaranteed annual income program for low-income families.
The object of the game plan is to retrieve the support of progressive and leftist voters who drifted away from the Liberals after the 2014 election.
In that effort, she will have the support of a powerful ally from Ottawa, by the name of Justin Trudeau.
Time, if not the polls, is on her side, Her game plan just might work.