TORONTO (Reuters) - Ontario’s governing Liberals have narrowed what was a yawning gap with their main rivals ahead of October’s provincial election, giving them momentum as the campaign officially starts.
What had been a double-digit split between the Liberals and the Conservatives narrowed to just 3.5 percentage points in a Nanos survey released over the Labor Day weekend, only just outside the survey’s margin of error.
The Liberals, in power since 2003, promise lower tuition fees for many college and university students as well as help for businesses who hire immigrants, and for seniors.
The Progressive Conservatives, the main opposition, say they will cut taxes, including a recently raised levy on electricity bills, and scrap the big premiums the government pays for green energy, while still spending more on health and education.
The Liberals’ hold on power in Ontario, Canada’s economic powerhouse, has been squeezed as the Conservatives were elected with a majority government at the national level in May. Toronto, the provincial capital and Canada’s largest city, elected a right-wing city mayor last October.
Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty has said he won’t raise taxes but many are skeptical, and pollster Nik Nanos told the Globe and Mail newspaper that McGuinty must overcome an anti-incumbent mood.
“Roll up those factors and what we have is this downward pressure on the Liberals,” he said.
McGuinty last year brought in an unpopular harmonized sales tax on goods and services, which combined federal and provincial sales taxes. It cut red tape for business, but made many items more costly for consumers.
A rogue card in the political calculations is support for the New Democrats, the third largest party in the provincial legislature and No. 3 in the polls.
Under Canada’s first-past-the-post voting system, the left-of-center vote in the October 6 election could split between the Liberals and New Democrats, allowing the Conservatives to win seats without having a majority of votes.
The Nanos poll put support for the Progressive Conservatives at 35.4 percent and backing for the Liberals at 31.9 percent. The New Democrats got 22.8 percent support.
All three parties promise to balance the Ontario government budget by 2017-18.
Reporting by Claire Sibonney; editing by Janet Guttsman and Peter Galloway