As the cost of living rises, affordability becomes Ontario’s number one election issue

In every Ontario poll that is publicly available, the number one concern of voters is the rising cost of living.

Affordability is past the perennial top problems of health – even after two years of a global pandemic – and jobs, with the unemployment rate at record lows.

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While Ontario party leaders often talk about making life more affordable during the campaign, it’s a wonder they don’t take the issue even harder, given its strong resonance with voters.

“The smart politicians don’t just talk about [the cost of living] if a problem, they’ll understand it’s a character test,” said Greg Lyle, a veteran pollster and president of Innovative Research Group.

“People want them to talk about the issue in a way that says those politicians understand the problem the voters face,” Lyle said in an interview with CBC News.

Recent polls by Lyle’s firm, as well as Earnscliffe Strategies, Ipsos and Abacus Data clearly show that concerns over the cost of living are most important to voters in Ontario right now.

Trips to the grocery store hit Ontarians with sticker shock, making the rising cost of living the top provincial election issue, according to several recent polls. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

“It’s on the minds of so many people,” Lyle said. “Like you [as a politician] If you miss this song, it will sound to the average voter as if you aren’t listening to them.”

What is not clear from the polls is which party voters think is best dealt with.

Lyle’s poll suggests Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative Party has an advantage over the Ontario Liberals and the NDP in this area. parties had offered up affordability ahead of its late April poll.

“Part of the problem that the liberals have is that they are being blamed for the high electricity prices, as the Ontarians see it, and so they have to beat that history to move forward on the issue,” Lyle said.

But when asked which party would do better on affordability, the most common response was neither side, suggesting there is some chance for the Liberals and the NDP to gain some ground on the PCs.

Ontario’s progressive conservative leader Doug Ford speaks at a rally to mark the start of the election campaign in Etobicoke last week. (Alex Lupul / CBC)

Similarly, Earnscliffe Strategies polls suggest the PCs are only slightly ahead of voters who cited the cost of living as their number one concern.

“There is no single party that really owns this matter,” said Doug Anderson, co-lead of national opinion polling for Earnscliffe.

Because affordability has only recently become the dominant issue, Anderson characterizes public opinion on this as “ephemeral.” He therefore sees significant growth potential for a party that offers voters an attractive package of ways to make life more affordable.

“I think we will see parties make decisions to mark [affordability] policy more,” Anderson said.

Liberal leader Steven Del Duca’s most significant attempt to do this yet was his attention-grabbing promise: All transit charges in Ontario would be $1 until 2024. He spent the rest of last week unveiling education announcements.

An Esso station lists a price of nearly $2 a gallon for gasoline, in Toronto, on May 5, 2022. Gas prices are expected to continue rising in Ontario. (Alex Lupul / CBC)

NDP leader Andrea Horwath has tried to showcase the ideas in her platform on how to make life more affordable.

On Thursday, she spoke about a dental care program that could save an average household more than $1,200 a year. Then on Friday she paid attention to her housing plan, which included an offer of government aid with down payments. And Saturday was about cutting people’s electricity and heating bills by financing energy retrofits in the home.

The PCs aim for what appears to be a front-runner-style campaign, with Ford’s daily events merely repeating what he’s previously announced.

The key affordability measures Ford has to offer will apply to drivers: the elimination of annual vehicle registration fees, the elimination of provincial highway tolls in the Greater Toronto Area, and a promised six-month reduction in Ontario gasoline taxes. at 5.7 cents a liter.

All parties must fight the election on affordability, said Ginny Roth, a former Ontario PC strategist who now works in government relations for Crestview Strategy.

“It’s incredibly crucial, and they have to do it in a way that stands out,” Roth said in an interview.

Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath walks with candidate Justin Kong after announcing a dental plan during a campaign halt in Scarborough last week. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

She understands why the NDP is promising dental and pharmaceutical care, but questions whether they are communicating clearly to voters how it will make their lives more affordable.

“I don’t think they’re breaking through in the way that Del Duca Liberals have had any success breaking the posts,” Roth said.

She thinks Del Duca has delivered on its $1 transit fare promise by being “politically palatable.”

Affordability only overtook COVID-19 as the main issue late last year after the worst of the pandemic appeared to be behind Ontario. It’s almost as if from March 2020 people accepted that the pandemic should be the priority, but then their pent-up concerns about the cost of living erupted.

Mix in house prices that skyrocket 44 percent in just two years, plus a spike in inflation as the Ontarios face record high gas prices and daily rising groceries, and you’ve got voters wanting to know what the parties will do to save their lives. easier on their wallet.

It’s unusual for one issue to dominate Ontario politics lately, Lyle said.

“This is new compared to, say, the last decade of Ontario’s election campaigns,” he said. “The last few elections we had crowded agendas where it was very difficult to tackle an issue that everyone would be interested in.”

Now Ontario’s political parties are staring straight into the face of the issue “that everyone is interested in”. It will be fascinating to see how they handle it for the rest of the campaign.

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