Prime strategists reveal what labored — and what didn’t — in Ontario’s election


Within the aftermath of Ontario’s hard-fought election, prime strategists from the 4 main events got here collectively to declare a short-lived truce.

The largest shock? How a lot they agreed with each other when evaluating notes for the Democracy Discussion board at TMU that I moderated three weeks after the June 2 election.

The largest bonus? Whereas divulging a number of commerce secrets and techniques from the marketing campaign path, they have been candid, courteous and complimentary towards their erstwhile opponents.

Whereas this on-line assembly of rivals at Toronto Metropolitan College didn’t degenerate into ideological debate, it did generate concepts about what works in elections. And what doesn’t.

Progressive Conservative strategist and chief pollster Nick Kouvalis mentioned Premier Doug Ford tapped into voter impatience with governments of all stripes.

Voters “have been considering getting on with their lives, and getting on with it, and that’s how we received to ‘Get it Executed’ as our slogan,” Kouvalis mentioned.

Moderator and Star columnist Martin Regg Cohn, top left, Progressive Conservative strategist and chief pollster Nick Kouvalis, NDP campaign director Michael Balagus, Liberals campaign director Christine McMillan, bottom left, and Green party campaign director Becky Smit during the Democracy Forum at Toronto Metropolitan University on June 23, 2022.

Therefore the PC emphasis on concrete motion to deal with visitors congestion by constructing highways and bridges, nevertheless controversial. Drivers caught in rush hour might open the Waze mapping app to search out PC advertisements promising reduction from visitors jams, echoed by roadside billboards reinforcing the identical focused message.

The Waze blitz was paying homage to the occasion’s pioneering use of the Xbox to focus on younger male voters with “buck-a-beer” advertisements in 2018. The Tories recognized a number of totally different voter profiles, together with the “non partisan” section who assist the Liberals federally however are open to backing the PCs provincially, Kouvalis informed our viewers.

Simply as essential as turning voters on was determining how to not flip them off — which is why the Tories determined early on to require all MPPs to be vaccinated or face expulsion from caucus.

“You may as nicely lower your losses shortly and burn out the bleeding and transfer on,” Kouvalis mentioned. “You’re gonna get slaughtered if you happen to maintain these folks in your caucus … This inoculated us.”

By eradicating the distraction of vaccination compliance, the Tories made it simpler to keep away from opposition assaults concerning the affect of COVID-19, clearing the trail to victory that yielded 83 seats.

NDP marketing campaign director Michael Balagus mentioned his occasion additionally relied on “extra refined … voter modelling than we now have earlier than,” due to a fundraising machine that yielded “more cash this time round.”

New Democrats found that many citizens had way back made up their minds concerning the pandemic, and Ford’s function in it. Amongst Ontarians open to voting both PC or NDP, most didn’t consider the issues “have been his fault,” Balagus revealed.

Relitigating the pandemic was not a successful technique at a time that “folks wished to maneuver on.” Their feeling was, “I simply got here by way of a pandemic, all I wish to do is get my life collectively once more.”

The NDP nonetheless made well being care a significant difficulty, however failed to achieve traction amongst sufficient voters past 31 ridings (a decline of 9 seats from 2018).

Nor did the Liberals make headway on their most well-liked problems with schooling reforms and “buck-a-ride” transit fares province-wide, mentioned marketing campaign director Christine McMillan.

“It’s not for lack of making an attempt,” she mused. The Liberal marketing campaign was additionally pissed off by Ford’s means to speak his well past reporters’ questions at his day by day information conferences: “I believe the premier did a very good job of making his personal Teflon.”

Regardless of a strong debate efficiency, after almost two years of preparation, Liberal Chief Steven Del Duca was unable to interrupt by way of. A part of the issue was that “we had no assets” — leaving the Liberals with solely eight seats regardless of edging out the NDP within the standard vote.

Inexperienced Celebration marketing campaign director Becky Smit was additionally unable to capitalize on the sturdy efficiency of occasion chief Mike Schreiner, broadly seen as the general winner of the controversy. The postdebate problem was “altering that inspiration into votes on (election) day,” Smit mentioned. “It was a tougher marketing campaign to recruit and retain volunteers than I’ve ever seen prior to now.”

Balagus agreed that debates are core to the marketing campaign, however overrated of their affect. Barring a colossal blunder, these televised encounters hardly ever change minds — principally as a result of so few folks concentrate.

“For essentially the most half, folks don’t watch the controversy,” he mentioned. The NDP carried out focus group suggestions with 24 folks within the aftermath of the controversy and located nobody had tuned in.

“Solely 15 folks in our province watch the controversy,” Kouvalis famous dryly.

Extra essential to the marketing campaign is determining what voters do care about, he argued.

“We have been the one occasion speaking in a really efficient means about rebuilding the financial system, creating jobs, larger paychecks … the important thing drivers of the vote,” Kouvalis argued.

What did Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives do proper to win re-election? What did New Democrats, Liberals and Greens be taught from a bruising marketing campaign? The marketing campaign managers of the 4 main events evaluate notes on how they competed in opposition to each other within the democratic contest of 2022. Moderated by Toronto Star columnist and TMU Visiting Practitioner Martin Regg Cohn, and sponsored by the School of Arts.

Answering an viewers query, Balagus agreed that the NDP can’t simply indulge an “mental debate about class and redistribution of wealth,” with out discovering a means of “speaking on to working class, blue collar people about their lives.”

The NDP historically benefited from protest votes, nevertheless it now faces competitors from the Conservatives sharing that pool of pissed off voters.

“We had a lock-hold on the ‘I hate all the pieces,’” Balagus recalled. Now, “they’re extra prone to gravitate in direction of both us or Conservatives, and I believe that’s the place the crossover comes.”

Whereas affordability topped the listing of vote-determining points, different considerations — from well being care to employees’ rights — received’t go away after voting day.

“Now the election is over, and now there’s a complete bunch of issues that must get completed,” Kouvalis agreed.

In any other case, it’s only a successful marketing campaign slogan. And a recipe for dropping authorities.

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


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