The easing of public health restrictions this summer means the days of campaigning only over Zoom are numbered.
That’s good news for Ontario’s opposition leaders, who are preparing for a return to the campaign trail over the coming months with high hopes of making inroads against the governing Progressive Conservatives.
The two parties with the best chance of unseating Premier Doug Ford’s Tories on June 2, 2022, the NDP and Liberals, told iPolitics their leaders will be back to face-to-face campaigning as soon as public health experts say it’s safe to do so.
While it’s unclear exactly when that could be, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca are preparing their parties for a unique pre-election summer as the province emerges from the worst of the pandemic.
Under Ontario’s reopening plan, outdoor campaign rallies with large numbers of supporters won’t be allowed allowed until at least Step Three, when 70 to 80 per cent of people have received their first dose and 25 per cent have both doses, and restrictions are further relaxed.
But with the outdoor gathering limit increasing to 25 under Step Two, it might be possible for leaders to hold small campaign events or tour the province and meet supporters in-person. With Ontario entering Step One on Friday, the province could move to Step Two as early as July 2.
“We’ve made tremendous progress as a party over the past 12 months, despite the challenges of the pandemic,” Del Duca told iPolitics on Monday. “Having said that, with 12 months to go, there’s a ton of work that Ontario Liberals still need to do to earn the trust of the people of Ontario.”
Speaking to reporters last week, Horwath said for her, the upcoming campaign is going to be “all about people.”
“It’s all about showing the people of Ontario that we can get out of this pandemic and chart a course forward for Ontario that really supports people and gets people back up on their feet,” she said.
Ontario’s Liberal party told iPolitics last week that it will spend the summer “laser focused” on pushing for a safe reopening of schools in September and a safe reopening of the province’s economy over the coming months.
The party has so far unveiled two major platform commitments: to spend $8 billion over five years to build and repair schools, and a plan to work with the federal government to reduce the cost of childcare to $10 per day.
Del Duca told iPolitics on Monday that consultations are underway for his party’s plan to improve long-term care, and that while he can’t say when the plan will be released, it will be made public “as soon as it’s ready.”
The Liberals said in March that they had officially paid off $10 million in campaign debt from the last provincial election in 2018, and that all new contributions are going directly to their election efforts.
The NDP’s Horwath said last week that while Ontarians are still focused on the pandemic, her party will show people that it’s putting “their interests and their concerns first” by talking about rebuilding the public health system and taking the profits out of long-term care.
The party has released three major campaign commitments since late last year, including to eliminate the role of private companies in the administration of long-term care; a plan to make housing affordable; and a plan to address the climate crisis and create green jobs.
Last week, the NDP said they’ve trained more than 3,500 people to work on the upcoming campaign and are set to train “at least another 5,000 volunteers” in 2021. The party said it’s launching a new regional training program due to increased interest in volunteering.
The NDP is also heading into the next election with no debt, having paid off its last election loan in January 2020.
Both parties have been working to nominate candidates throughout the winter and spring.
So far, the Liberals have nominated 41 candidates, which the party says is its “most diverse” team yet, and the NDP has nominated 34 candidates, with five more “due to be nominated in the coming days,” a spokesperson said. Ontario’s legislature has 124 seats.
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