Dalton McGuinty's summer brought him the worst of times - in the form of the report from the Provincial Auditor on the multicultural grants scandal. The story of the cricket group that applied for $150,000 only to receive a million was the subject of a John Tory radio attack ad I heard this morning. That particular ad is not on the the Ontario PC website but this ad attacking the grants as a "slush fund" is there. McGuinty will be hearing about that grant and the scandal associated with it from now until election day.
But it also brought the best of times - in the form the John Tory promise to provide public money to private religious schools (the promise is on the bottom of page 10 of his platform here but isn't prominently displayed on the web site). This CBC sponsored poll, while not directly about Tory's promise, illustrates that it is a political liability. It reported that by a margin of 58-29 poll respondents favoured merging the existing public and Catholic systems.
One deeply embedded Canadian political value is equality. Any policy measure that appears to grant a privileged place in the public realm to a specific group is anathema to public opinion. This was the case with the strong public antipathy to the proposals to grant some authority to religious institutions to utilize sharia law. It is the same with the response to Tory's plan and he may rue the day he ever gave it consideration.
With the campaign imminent - some buses begin to roll this week - the pollsters have been getting into the field. There have been four polls in recent weeks. In all the Liberals have 40% or more while PC support ranges from 34% to 37% and the NDP averages 17.5%, the Greens 7%.
The average produces a weak Liberal majority according to my forecast model (54 seats are needed):
L - 58
PC - 39
NDP - 10
Just a slight shift in opinion would put the Liberals into a minority. Interestingly, the Liberals' losses have largely been to the NDP and the Greens. On average, the PCs are running just one point ahead of their 2003 showing.
The key to the election at this point is Tory's private schools promise - if he can't shift the focus of public discussion and debate, the PCs would lose and the McGuinty would have a second majority. The Liberals appear to be intent on keeping it in the public eye. The issue is also a threat to the NDP - it is a classic wedge issue and if it really arouses public opinion to the exclusion of other considerations, the NDP (which has the same position as the Liberals on the issue) could lose ground. It might help the Greens a little - it could be an alternative for traditional Tories who still don't like support for Catholic schools, because the Greens favour funding only public education.
This analysis is conditional - it still is not clear what this campaign will be about, and that means the eventual outcome remains opaque.