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Doug Ford’s early election musing sets Ontario politics abuzz

If Premier Doug Ford decides to call an early election, political strategists say he'll need to give Ontario voters a compelling reason for why he's sending them to the polls ahead of the scheduled date of June 2026.

Despite fixed-date election law, premier has power to dissolve legislature at any time

Premier Doug Ford gestures toward wine bottles on shelves.

If Premier Doug Ford decides to call an early election, political strategists say he'll need to give Ontario voters a compelling reason for why he's sending them to the polls ahead of schedule.

Over the past week, Ford has repeatedly declined to rule out calling an election before his government's four-year mandate expires in June 2026. Multiple sources close to the Progressive Conservatives say no decision has been made to proceed with a snap vote, but say late next spring is the most likely date.

Strategists say there would be big political advantages for the Ontario PC Party to campaign before October 2025, when a federal election is widely expected. Chief among them: the presence of a Liberal government in Ottawa, particularly if it is still led by Justin Trudeau.

Ford could benefit from Trudeau's current unpopularity and target the prime minister in much the same way that Trudeau targeted Ford in the 2019 federal campaign, when the then-rookie premier was low in the polls.

But is political advantage on its own enough justification for Ford to call the vote well before his mandate is up? Fred DeLorey, a veteran Conservative strategist at both the federal and provincial levels, says no.

"If they're calling it [early] simply because the polls are good for them, then that's a strategic mistake," said DeLorey, who was director of operations for the Ontario PC 2018 campaign that brought Ford to power, and is now a partner with Northstar Public Affairs.

WATCH | Talk of an early election ramps up at Queen's Park:

Ontario opposition is getting ready for an early election next year as speculation grows

2 days ago

Duration 2:19

Opposition parties say they're ready for a potential early election in 2025, as speculations grow at Queen's Park. CBC’s Lorenda Reddekopp has more on how it could happen, given that Ontario has legislation with fixed election dates.

"They have to tell a story that we need this election for a reason," said DeLorey "If you have a narrative that you're running on, and you could go to Ontarians and say, 'We need a new mandate because we want to get X, Y and Z done,' then I think the cynicism would disappear."

'Inviting people to punish you'

David Herle, a longtime federal and provincial Liberal strategist, has a similar perspective. He says the biggest risk for Ford of calling a vote early is voters perceiving the move as cynical and self-serving.

"If it's cloaked purely in politics, you're inviting people to punish you for it," said Herle, who ran Kathleen Wynne's provincial election campaigns in 2014 and 2018.

Herle recently joined Rubicon Strategy, a lobbying firm led by Kory Teneycke, who led Ford's Ontario PC campaigns in 2018 and 2022.

He says one reason why Trudeau's Liberals failed to win a majority in 2021 is because the party didn't give voters a compelling reason why the election had to be called at that time, during the pandemic, just two years after the previous election.

"When [an early election] works, generally it's because the government has ginned up an issue that justifies that call," Herle said.

Ontario's fixed-date election law sets voting day as four years into a government's mandate, but the law also explicitly allows the premier to dissolve the legislature and call an election at any time before then.

While Herle and DeLorey both believe Ford will need to justify an early election, they also firmly believe the move would be to his benefit.

"If it's advantageous to your party to call an early election, you should do it," said DeLorey. "Just looking at the political side, if I was in any province as a premier, as a Conservative, I would want to make sure my election is while Justin Trudeau is still prime minister. He is historically unpopular."

Herle's take is that when Trudeau is no longer in power, voters will be looking for someone else to blame for political and economic problems.

"Housing will still be expensive, health care will still be difficult to access, groceries will still be costly," he said.

"Right now, I think almost all the premiers are getting a pretty free ride on this because Trudeau gets blamed for everything. But when he's gone, people are going to start looking at [premiers] and saying, 'Well, what are you doing?'"

Another factor at play is the overwhelming evidence of more than 60 years of Ontario's political history.

Since 1963, the party that won power in all but one of the last 17 Ontario elections was different from the party in power federally at the time. (The sole exception: Dalton McGuinty's Ontario Liberal victory in 2003, when Liberal Jean Chretien was prime minister.)

'Voters won't care' about early call

Laryssa Waler, who served as Ford's director of communications until 2020 and is now with the lobbying firm GT and Company, says that historical trend alone should be enough to persuade the premier to call the election before a federal vote happens.

"I would hope he would make that decision," Waler said in an interview. "It's the smart thing to do."

She is not convinced that Ford needs to give voters much justification for a snap call.

"If he calls an election early, I don't think that voters would penalize him for that, I don't think a single vote would change," she said. "Voters aren't really going to care. There's no incremental cost to having an election sooner than you would have had otherwise."

Waler says Ford simply has to show voters that he needs a new mandate because his government has achieved much of what the PCs promised to do in the last election.

That could be a bit of a tough sell for Ford, given that housing starts are nowhere near on pace for his target for 1.5 million homes, construction has yet to begin on Highway 413 and many of the new hospital projects he announced in the last campaign remain in the planning stages.

Nevertheless, Ford might vastly prefer a sooner-rather-than-later election for another reason: it would mean less time for the RCMP to complete its Greenbelt investigation and lay charges if warranted.

Early election speculation ramped up at Queen's Park over the past week since Ford announced plans to allow convenience stores to sell beer, wine and ready-to-drink cocktails come September, 16 months ahead of schedule.

The move will cost taxpayers at least $225 million in a payment to the Beer Store for early termination of a contract that was set to expire at the end of December 2025. Industry sources say the changes will also see the government lose out on LCBO revenues that could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

WATCH | Adding up the cost of Doug Ford's changes to alcohol retailing:

Why Doug Ford's booze sales plan could cost Ontario taxpayers far more than $225M

2 days ago

Duration 4:54

Premier Doug Ford's push to allow convenience stores to sell beer and wine this year will cost Ontario taxpayers at least $225 million. The government is giving big breweries and supermarket chains discounts, rebates and payments that Industry sources say add up to hundreds of millions of dollars. CBC's senior reporter Mike Crawley has the story.

Kevin Gaudet, another veteran Conservative strategist and founder of lobby firm BrightPoint Strategy, says the political risks for Ford of calling an early election are greater than the risks of waiting until 2026.

"If one goes to an election extra early, opponents and media could easily call it a cynical ploy," Gaudet said in an interview.

'His opponents are discombobulated'

Gaudet thinks there may be some strategic gamesmanship at play in talk of an early election, as it helps the PCs keep the opposition parties off balance.

"Why should the premier guarantee the exact future election date when he doesn't need to, when the benefit of not doing so is that his opponents are discombobulated and made to feel uncertain?" he said.

Ford's PCs hold a dramatic resource advantage over the opposition parties, having raised millions of dollars more since the 2022 election.

The PCs have spent some of that haul in recent months on high-profile advertising, including TV attack ads targeting Liberal leader Bonnie Crombie and a campaign showing Ford talking on the phone and saying he's "listening and working hard to make things better for every single person in Ontario."

The last time an Ontario premier with a majority called an election well before the traditional four-year mark, it certainly backfired. In 1990, then-premier David Peterson sent voters to the polls three years into his mandate, but his Liberals lost, giving Bob Rae's NDP its first and still only Ontario election victory.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mike Crawley

Senior reporter

Mike Crawley covers provincial affairs in Ontario for CBC News. He began his career as a newspaper reporter in B.C., filed stories from 19 countries in Africa as a freelance journalist, then joined the CBC in 2005. Mike was born and raised in Saint John, N.B.

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Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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