Martin Regg Cohn: It’s Doug Ford’s Ontario now, and voters aren’t hungry for change

The advance group sweeps into place at knowledgeable tempo, organising lights and mics on the outside podium.

Marketing campaign supporters in medical uniforms line up as human props for a photo-op backdrop.

An OPP protecting cordon takes up place, scouting for potential threats — assuming anybody may acknowledge the goal.

Steven Del Duca is making a public look any minute now.

The Liberal chief’s tour pulls up exactly on schedule. However there isn’t a conventional marketing campaign bus lumbering throughout the car parking zone, merely a modest van with a bodyguard using shotgun.

There isn’t any entourage of aides, no admiring throngs of voters or volunteers straining for a glimpse. There isn’t any phalanx of TV cameras, only a distant video feed for these watching on-line.

Welcome to election 2022, which is totally not like any marketing campaign that got here earlier than.

The whole lot is completely different, but change is just not within the air — a minimum of not on current traits.

If 2018 was a “change” election, 2022 appears to be like extra like a re-election — until one thing adjustments quickly.

4 years in the past, Progressive Conservative Chief Doug Ford rode that want for change all the best way to the premier’s workplace to topple a drained Liberal dynasty. However he was additionally the primary chief to ditch the normal marketing campaign tour, jettisoning the pesky media (who paid for seats on the bus or chartered flights) to fly solo on the marketing campaign path.

He pioneered the apply of constructing reporters play catch up as he hopscotched from metropolis to metropolis. Out of breath and out of place, journalists had been usually lowered to protecting him remotely — which is to say, from a secure distance — by way of a web based feed equipped by the PCs.

Ford is repeating that routine in 2022. Coasting on his front-runner standing, he’s working a peek-a-boo marketing campaign that depends on YouTube appearances whereas studying from a Teleprompter earlier than taking a handful of questions — after which, “No extra questions.”

In truth, Ford refused to satisfy reporters Monday, and held no public occasions the following day.

Now Del Duca is getting in on the act, albeit for various causes. With the media contingent shrinking, and the cash-strapped Liberals unable to bankroll the normal bells and whistles, he too is flying solo (totally on the highway).

Solely NDP Chief Andrea Horwath has maintained the custom of a full chief’s tour, with a marketing campaign bus criss-crossing the province. However New Democrats have additionally embraced the livestream expertise to get their message out to extra media.

On this placid spring morning, Del Duca’s Liberals have a sprawling Etobicoke park all to themselves. There isn’t any throbbing marketing campaign theme track to announce him, solely birdsong as background accompaniment.

Clad in his trademark open vest, he delivers the day’s message on health-care challenges within the period of COVID-19. As soon as questions from a handful of journalists on the bottom are exhausted, an aide invitations “reporters on the road — simply elevate your hand utilizing the Zoom chat operate.”

And so it goes with the hybrid democracy of the day — in particular person and on-line, however with valuable few voters tuning in. Even the questions have turn out to be captive of the digital world, with Del Duca on today (and different leaders on different days) having to reply for previous social media indiscretions and transgressions by candidates who had been vetted however not vetoed — turning off but extra voters.

Maybe extra individuals will tune in for the marketing campaign’s first televised debate, carried by a consortium of tv networks on Monday at 6:30 p.m. However the marketing campaign’s first leg has been a bust, with barely any voters paying consideration and hardly any politicians giving them cause to.

Absolutely 12 per cent of Ontarians had no concept an election had been known as when Abacus Information carried out its first marketing campaign ballot, in keeping with CEO David Coletto. One other 58 per cent had been following it solely just a little.

“The primary week of the marketing campaign actually hasn’t created a lot friction,” Coletto informed an election dialogue I moderated for the Empire Membership this week.

Not friction, not emotion, not ardour, not pathos. It’s not as a result of the marketing campaign excursions have modified, simply that the temper of the voters has altered — and the urge for food for change that animated the final election has dissipated.

His newest polling aligns with nearly each different up to now this yr — exhibiting Ford’s Tories effectively in entrance with 38 per cent, adopted by the Liberals at 29, the NDP with 22 and the Greens at 5 per cent. What’s fascinating is what’s behind these numbers.

Requested if it’s “positively time for a change in authorities,” 48 per cent agreed. That leaves everybody else in Ontario detached to alter, or against any change.

It’s additionally about the identical because the 50 per cent who sought change within the 2021 federal election that modified nearly nothing. It’s dramatically lower than the 63 per cent who wished a brand new authorities in 2018 and bought it.

Irrespective of how usually Del Duca and Horwath speak in regards to the “selection” voters have, not sufficient of them are ready to oust Ford from energy — and empower the options.

One other fascinating discovering, within the race for second place, is that the NDP doesn’t personal any of the problems that matter most to voters — notably affordability, housing, well being care, taxes and the financial system — as a result of they deem the Tories and Liberals extra certified in these areas. By the way, many of the points that get many of the media protection — the pandemic, paid sick days, racism and youngster care — ranked close to the underside.

Union members are additionally solidly behind Ford’s Tories, with the NDP in third place amongst non-public sector unionists, and tied for second amongst these in public sector jobs. That’s a tricky hill to climb.

Ford is the most well-liked chief. He’s additionally seen as probably the most certified by far to be premier (35 per cent), with Horwath (19 per cent) and Del Duca (16 per cent) far behind.

In contrast to his rivals, Del Duca is the rookie chief who’s least recognized — besides to his bodyguards, reporters and supporters at quiet marketing campaign occasions in quiet parks. On Monday, much more Ontarians will see for themselves how the rival politicians carry out onstage.

Whether or not their televised encounter can change the marketing campaign right into a “change” election is as much as the opponents — and in the end within the palms of viewers who select to vote on June 2. Tune in — and keep tuned.

Martin Regg Cohn is a Toronto-based columnist specializing in Ontario politics and worldwide affairs for the Star. Observe him on Twitter: @reggcohn

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