In a provincial election where turnout promises to hit a historic low, the pressure is on all three main parties to win the ground war and that means getting their vote out.
With the Liberals, New Democrats and Progressive Conservatives counting on their core supporters and those few undecided, all parties agree the ground war this time around may be more important than ever, especially for the Grits and Tories, who are said to be in a statistical tie.
“I think we will hit a record low, unfortunately,” said Duff Conacher, of Democracy Watch, a national citizen advocacy group. He’s predicting a 45 per cent turnout on June 12, down from 48.2 per cent in 2011.
His prediction is supported by the fact than only 566,845 Ontarians voted in the advance polls over seven days, down from 603,785 in the 2011 election when the advance polls were open for 10 days.
Conacher blames, in part, the fact that not one of the parties put forward any specifics on how “to clean up Ontario politics,” adding that history shows voting numbers go up when parties offer concrete solutions in this area.
Not since the 1971 election, when Bill Davis became premier for the first time, has the turnout cracked 70 per cent. It has shown a steady decline since 1995, when Tory premier Mike Harris took power,
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said it is critical vote that she hopes will be reflected in the turnout. “I think this is an extremely important election and I encourage everyone out there to vote,” Horwath said during a campaign stop in Sarnia.
A Liberal insider said a low turnout means volunteers become even more important because “your ground game and your resources absolutely make a real difference.”
“Literally, it’s the old school knocking on doors, checking the lists at polling locations, and going back to the doors for the people who haven’t voted,” she said.
Ordinarily, the New Democrats can rely on organized labour to help pull the vote, but this time around there is no common labour front. Some unions and organized labour groups, including the Ontario Federation of Labour, have aligned themselves with the Liberals.
A governing party can benefit from few voters turning up. “There would be in some areas where a low turnout would be good for us, because there are people who are angry with the government,” the Liberal source said.
In the Stratford-area riding of Perth-Wellington, where former cabinet minister John Wilkinson lost to the Tories by just 210 votes in 2011 as the former McGuinty government was reduced to a minority, the Liberal campaign is keenly aware of the need to get supporters to the polls.
“The more doors you knock on, the more people you ID, the more people you talk to, the better chance we have of getting out those people on Thursday,” said 30-year-old candidate Stewart Skinner, who is trying to topple Conservative Randy Pettapiece, after a campaign appearance in St. Marys with Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne Monday.
Will Stewart, director of media for the Ontario Progressive Conservative campaign, said while mobilizing the vote may now include using all tools available — from Facebook to Twitter to large, supporter databases — the key is getting each local campaign to organize its electorate.
“It really is what the campaign is all about — identifying who will vote for you and pushing the vote out on election day,” Stewart said on Monday.
“This really is a high stakes campaign.”
- With files from Bruce Campion-Smith, Rob Ferguson and Tanya Talaga