After a disastrous April, polling shows that Doug Ford is back in the game

Fresh data from Maru offers some encouraging signs for a party that was almost down and out two months ago
By Steve Paikin - Published on Jun 09, 2021
Premier Doug Ford at a press conference at Queen's Park on June 2. (Nathan Denette/CP)

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People in public life love to use the expression “a week is a lifetime in politics.” They often say it when they’re trailing in the polls and trying to rally the troops: Don’t worry. There’s still plenty of time to come back. 

Well, we have more fresh evidence that the slogan is absolutely true. 

My friend John Wright, executive vice-president of Maru Public Opinion, did some polling for us a few days ago and discovered some encouraging news for the current government of Ontario. 

A little over a week ago, Premier Doug Ford’s announcement that the province would keep schools closed for the remainder of the school year occasioned a lot of unhappiness. Pretty much every other province was offering in-class instruction, so why not Ontario? Could classes have been opened if the government had listened to its education partners and moved more quickly to improve ventilation or to get teachers vaccinated? 

Apparently, the public is content with the decision. Maru found that 69 per cent of Ontarians surveyed approve of the decision not to have any more in-class learning this month. Only 31 per cent disapprove. Governments love it when they’re on the right side of the 69-31 split in opinion. 

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However, other numbers show the public is more ambivalent about the job he’s doing. On the issue of how well the government is currently managing the province’s reopening, 52 per cent approve and 48 per cent disapprove — a pretty even split. 

On how well Ford and his government have managed the overall response to the pandemic over the past year, only 46 per cent approve, while 54 per cent disapprove. 

And as to the overall job Ford is doing as premier, 48 per cent approve and 52 per cent disapprove. It wasn’t that long ago that Ford was one of the most popular premiers in the country, with approval numbers in the 60s. Those days are clearly gone, at least for now. 

Strangely enough, someone who’s taken tons of brickbats over the past year has better popularity numbers than the premier. Ontario’s outgoing chief medical officer of health, David Williams, has the approval of 58 per cent of Ontarians; just 42 per cent don’t approve of the job he’s done.

“Dr. Williams can retire knowing he has achieved a relatively good approval rating for his leadership since the pandemic burst onto the scene in March 2020,” concludes Wright. 

Having said that, Ford should find these and other numbers somewhat encouraging. Remember when the premier made that announcement in April about shutting down almost everything and giving police services stepped-up powers (which they ultimately rejected)? That sent the premier’s numbers into the toilet. Ford had the approval of only 39 per cent of the public then, while 61 per cent disapproved. 

But he appears to have made considerable progress in bringing the Tories back. 

“The premier went to ground for at least three weeks as the manner of engagement and communications messaging tightened considerably on all aspects of the government’s pandemic response and managing the province overall,” says Wright about the strategy of lowering the premier’s profile. “It would appear that the fresh approach and discipline has yielded a recovery in perception between April and the first week of June.” 

Maru asked Ontarians: Knowing what you now know about how the Progressive Conservatives have managed the pandemic, would you want them, or another party, to have steered us through the past 15 months? Fully 42 per cent of Ontarians opted for the current governing party. Only 25 per cent would have preferred the New Democratic Party, 24 per cent the Liberals, and 9 per cent the Greens. If those kinds of numbers hold up until election day in 2022, Ford will likely be re-elected with a majority government. 

Finally, now that we’re T-minus one year and counting until the next provincial election, the focus on the leaders will inevitably become sharper. Ford has been a high-profile presence in politics for more than a decade. NDP leader Andrea Horwath is about to lead her party into a fourth general election, something almost unheard of in today’s politics. Green leader Mike Schreiner, who turned 52 today, has led his party for more than a decade. But Liberal leader Steven Del Duca has been at the helm of his party for only 15 months, almost all of which came during the pandemic. The Liberals aren’t an official party at Queen’s Park (only eight MPPs; the threshold is 12), and Del Duca himself doesn’t have a seat. As a result, his opportunities to gain attention for himself and his party have been much reduced. 

So we wondered: Do Ontarians know who the leader of the Liberals is? 

Maru asked that question and offered five options to respondents: Kathleen Wynne, Manuel De Sousa, John Fraser, Del Duca, or none of the above. The good news for Del Duca is that 69 per cent of those surveyed were able, when prompted, to identify him as Liberal leader. Five per cent thought former premier Wynne was still the leader, 2 per cent that De Sousa was (he’s actually a Portuguese World War I soldier who made his way to France and eventually established a brand of champagne that still exists today), and another 2 per cent that Fraser (the former interim leader) was. The bad news is, even when prompted with Del Duca’s name, 23 per cent of respondents answered: “None of the above.” So, clearly, the Liberal leader still has some way to go to get his name out there.

Seven Fridays ago, Ford made that announcement about shutting down the province and caused a near mutiny. His numbers tanked. Seven Fridays later, his party appears to have stopped the bleeding and put the Fordites back in the game. 

The maxim is right: a week is a lifetime in politics. And we have 51 more lifetimes before the next grand consultation with the people. 

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