LILLEY: Ontario’s election campaign about to get hot and heavy, for a few weeks

This week both the PCs and the NDP released their ads for radio, TV and online with both parties saying they’ll be spending millions of dollars over the next several weeks.

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Just when you thought it was safe to turn on the TV again, they’re back! Election ads that is, coming to a TV station, radio signal and computer screen near you.

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This week both the PCs and the NDP released their ads for radio, TV and online with both parties saying they’ll be spending millions of dollars over the next several weeks. The Liberals haven’t released the focus of their campaign but they do promise that one will be coming.

Under provincial regulations, the parties have just a few weeks to spend these millions before pre-election spending limits kick in. While third party advertisers are restricted in their spending one year before the election, registered parties are only restricted in the six months before the vote.

That means between now and the first week of November, when the spending limit kicks in, expect to see and hear a lot of ads trying to convince voters early.

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Doug Ford’s PCs were the first out of the gate with three ads, one promoting the premier and his policies and two attack ads – one for the NDP and one for the Liberals. The NDP has four ads with two focused on their leader, Andrea Horwath, and an attack ad for each Ford and Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca.

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“A badge of honour,” is how one Liberal responded to both the government and official opposition running ads aimed at their leader.

Both the PCs and NDP have used similar, rather awkward video of Del Duca fidgeting on a Zoom call while using graphics and voiceovers to link him to former premier Kathleen Wynne. Until the 2018 election, Del Duca was a minister in Wynne’s government serving as both transportation minister and minister of economic development.

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It’s odd for both parties to be focussed on a third party with only enough members to fill a mini-van but they’re doing it for different reasons.

Ford’s Tories want to make sure that the progressive vote is split and that the formerly strong Ontario Liberals don’t rise up out of the 2018 ash heap they were reduced to after 15 years in power. The NDP is on a mission to replace the Liberals as the preferred progressive option.

That’s something that has already happened in provincial politics across Western Canada. In Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta the NDP is the main party for left leaning voters while in British Columbia the Liberal Party is a coalition of centrist Liberals and Conservatives that fights the NDP for power.

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NDP campaign director Michael Balagus said on Friday morning that he believes his party is the only progressive option.

“I see it as we are the only progressive vote,” Balagus told me. He’s hoping that if voters want to stop the Ford government from being re-elected that they will turn to his party. “I do think we are in a position to replace the Liberals as the strategic choice.”

Balagus promised the party will release a practical platform come election time. As for campaigning, Horwath will follow in Ford’s footsteps and head north next week.

Ford visited Timmins on Monday and Tuesday to unveil local candidate George Pirie as the PC candidate. The Tories are hoping to win in a region that hasn’t voted blue since the 1980s and the NDP is determined to fight back.

What is fascinating is that this election could become a fight primarily between the PCs and the NDP. The Liberals have struggled with fundraising of late and elected Del Duca as leader just one week before the province went into its first COVID lockdown.

It’s eight long months until voting day in Ontario but over the next few weeks you might start to feel like you are right in the middle of another election campaign.

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