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Majority of Ontarians don't think the Ford government is 'For The People': poll

The poll showed a tightening of support between the Progressive Conservatives and the Liberals, with Ford's party just three points ahead
Ontario PC leader Doug Ford, second left, reacts with his family after winning the Ontario Provincial election to become the new premier in Toronto, on Thursday, June 7, 2018.

Doug Ford sailed to an election victory in 2018 with the slogan "For The People." 

Nearly six years later, that tagline doesn't stick for a majority of Ontarians, according to a new Pallas Data poll

The poll, conducted for The Trillium on Feb. 10-11, found 67 per cent of Ontarians don't think the Progressive Conservative government has lived up to that slogan, while just one-fifth, or 21 per cent, do. 

And while Premier Ford vowed during his second mandate to "Get It Done," often dropping the catchphrase at public appearances, more than half of Ontarians don't think the PC government is doing that, either, when it comes to the government's main priorities, including building housing. 

The same poll shows a tightening of the PCs' lead to just three points among decided and leaning voters, with the Ontario Liberal Party putting Ford's majority "under threat," according to Pallas Data CEO Joseph Angolano. 

While the pollster says the Tories should be concerned with some of these numbers, Conservative strategists point out that the Ford government is less than halfway through its second mandate and has plenty of time to show Ontarians that it is producing results on the issues that matter. 

Ford the people?

Angolano was most surprised about past PC voters' opinions on Ford's 2018 slogan, "For the People." While 45 per cent of people who said they voted for the PCs in the 2022 election indicated the government is living up to it, close to the same number — 39 per cent — said it isn't. 

"The fact that it's that close seems it indicates to me that there's some strong ambivalence, even among his own base, with how he's been able to live up to that slogan," said Angolano, saying the slogan implied that Ford would "work for all Ontarians, (and) not going to be in the pocket of special interest groups."

Last year the Ford government found itself embroiled in controversy over its plan to open up parts of the Greenbelt to development —  a process the province's auditor general and integrity commissioner said in separate reports was deeply flawed. Their reports found that a political staffer steered the land selection and that developers with much to gain had direct access to him. The premier apologized in September and reversed the decision late last year.

Angolano said numbers within the PC pool of voters "should worry" the Ford government much more than overall voting intentions, which, according to the Pallas Data poll, give the Tories a slim lead over the Liberals. 

"Governing is a lot like customer satisfaction ... you gotta keep the people who voted for you happy, right, and they can't look at that number and be happy with that," Angolano said. 

Laryssa Waler, a former executive director of communications for Premier Ford, said that voters' interpretation of what "For The People" means will differ but added that she doesn't think Ontarians pay as much attention to slogans as what is being done in their communities or on issues that matter to them.

Ontarians, she said, care about whether schools or hospitals are being built or if their parents will have a spot in a long-term care home, for example. 

"All those things have gone up, and all those things are more of a 'yes' today than they were six years ago," she said. "So I think that Ford should feel very comfortable in the fact that people see him getting stuff done."

The latest poll shows the PCs at 35 per cent support, with the Liberals close behind at 32 per cent. The NDP is down to 22 per cent and the Greens are at 7 per cent. A poll done in the fall, before Bonnie Crombie took the helm of the Liberal Party, had the PCs at 33 per cent, and the NDP and Liberals each at 27 per cent. 

It's now a "competitive race" between the PCs and the Liberals, said Angolano, adding that Crombie has been able to do what the party's previous leader Steven Del Duca couldn't: lower the NDP vote and get the Liberals over 30 per cent.  

This poll suggests that, to some extent, "it's women who are now powering the Liberals up," said Angolano, with Crombie seeing a nearly 11 point jump among female voters compared to September under interim leader John Fraser, though there's been an increase — albeit a smaller one — among males voters as well. 

"That's an important first step for the Liberals to do in order for them to make government," Angolano said, referring to the overall jump in points, but he added that it's likely not enough, and the PCs could "still eke out a majority" because they're ahead in all regions of the province except for Toronto and South Central Ontario. Even so, it would likely be a "small majority" or "strong major minority," he said. 

Nonetheless, he said the poll results show the "residual strength" of the Liberal brand and why Premier Ford targeted Crombie during a speech at the PCs' recent policy convention. Waler agreed, saying the results show the Liberal brand remains "strong."

"The Ontario PC party is not going to underestimate the Liberals or take them for granted — you saw them come out with a very clear campaign to define Bonnie Crombie off the bat," said Waler. 

She added that Crombie is now challenged with trying to shake that "expensive, fancy branding," especially since she's up against someone who Waler thinks is "very relatable." 

"He's self-deprecating. He admits his mistakes. He walks them back. Doug Ford doesn't think Doug Ford is perfect," she said. 

On the tightening of support between the PCs and Liberals, Waler cautioned against taking a single poll as an "accurate snapshot in time." While she wasn't surprised to see the Liberals gain points, Waler said the numbers indicate "most people in Ontario still support Doug Ford and still support the direction of the province" and that the Tories are still strong in rural, suburban and northern communities. 

Angolano said the PCs should be "slightly worried," though they still have over two years left in their mandate and time to "turn this around" and build up more of a lead.  

In that time, he said the premier should address people's views of the government's efforts on things like housing and the economy. 

Is the Ford government "getting it done"?

Asked whether the Ford government was doing enough to "get it done" in different policy areas, respondents mostly said "No."

On getting housing built, two thirds — 67 per cent — said the government was not doing enough, and the same when it comes to supporting health care (73 per cent "No"), supporting public education (63 per cent "No"), supporting a strong economy (52 per cent "No") and building roads and public transit (48 per cent "No").

On liberalizing alcohol sales, 52 per cent said the government is "getting it done," while only 20 per cent felt it isn't. This follows the government's announcement in December that Ontarians would be able to buy beer, wine, cider, coolers and seltzers at participating convenience, grocery and big box stores by January 2026. 

"Other than that, these are not good ratings, to say the least," said Angolano. 

While the percentage of people who don't think the government is "getting it done" on health care is the highest, Angolano said Conservative governments typically aren't seen as being strong in this area, or on public education. 

The concerning ones, according to him, are the numbers on building homes and the economy. 

"Voters vote with their wallets usually. If they think there's a party out there that's going to ensure that the economy is strong, that their jobs are not under threat or they have a greater chance of getting in the middle class and staying in the middle class ... that party is likely going to win," he said.

He added that having 20 per cent more people think they're not doing enough on the economy than those who think they are is "not what you want at any time."

As for housing, the lack of supply is a major problem in the province, and so Ford should be concerned that two-thirds of Ontarians don't think he's doing enough on this, according to Angolano. 

"It'd be a major concern because there have been some efforts, and voters are giving a big thumbs-down so far on those efforts, so that would be something that he'd probably want to address," he said. 

The dissatisfaction with the government's efforts in this area increased as the age of voters decreased, with 73.2 per cent in the 18-34 age group thinking Ford needs to do more, compared to 62.7 per cent.  

Waler called it a "big stretch" to conclude from the poll that the housing issue is Ford's fault.

"What I think the poll says is that housing is a concern, and it absolutely is a concern," she said. "Do I think the province is doing everything it can to solve housing? It's pulling virtually all the levers it can pull."

But Waler argued that it's a complicated issue — labour, supply chains and training are needed to build the homes the province needs — and while municipalities and the federal government are taking steps, there's more they could be doing. 

"It is such a big problem and it cannot be fixed by a single level of government," she said, adding that the timing of the poll matters as well. 

"If you're looking at a poll in the middle of a mandate versus during an election, that's a very different kind of time to gauge assigning blame," she said.

Waler said the government's work is never done in other areas, like health care. 

"You do see health-care funding going up, you do see hospitals getting built, you see a massive recruitment on nurses and doctors and PSWs ... I think (the government is) incrementally fixing things that need to be fixed," she said, adding that it could take another year or two for the public to see the results of some of the efforts being made today. 

As the government enters the second half of its mandate, it must ensure it keeps investing in and is focused on things that matter to people, said Waler. This includes ensuring schools stay open and "there's peace with labour," and investing in health care and transit. 

Politically, she said they need to "keep defining and understanding that the Liberal Party is a formidable opponent." 

Kyle Jacobs, a senior consultant with Navigator who previously worked in Ford's office, downplayed the slim margin between the PCs and the Liberals, but said the focus needs to be on deliverables going forward. 

"The Ford government is less than halfway into its second mandate, and its focus continues to be on building. I think this government needs to demonstrate to voters that they can deliver core priorities," he said. 

"That’s why I think in the upcoming legislative sitting, we will see the government focused on creating good jobs, improving economic competitiveness, and reducing red tape so that workers across the province can get shovels in the ground on infrastructure projects and build desperately needed housing."

The poll was conducted on Feb. 10 and 11 by interactive voice recording among a sample of 1121 adults 18 or older who are living in Ontario and eligible to vote in provincial elections. The poll had a margin of error of +/- 2.9%, at the 95% confidence level.

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