Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak to call for non-confidence vote on gas plant controversy

In what can only be described as auspicious timing for the Ontario Liberal government, a new poll suggests the lagging party has closed a public opinion gap with the rival Conservatives – who are rabid for an election and will try to topple the government as early as today.

The Tory plan is to call for a vote of no-confidence based on the government’s handling of the ongoing gas plant controversy. It is unlikely to succeed, but more on that later.

The Toronto Star reports that a Forum Research poll has the Kathleen Wynne-led Liberals in a tie with Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives, each with 36 per cent of the public’s support.

Andrea Horwath’s NDP have slipped behind the pack with 24 per cent support, although Horwath remains the most popular of the three party leaders.

Check out all the details here.

Public polling is fine and good – but a separate poll from just four days ago suggested the Tories held an eight-point lead on the Liberals.

[ Related: Ontario energy minister not told before Oakville plant killed ]

But what is more interesting in the Forum Research numbers is that they suggest the Liberals could actually end up with a majority government in the next election.

Forum president Lorne Bozinoff told the Star that, based on voting concentration, the Liberals could be in line to win 59 of the 107-seat legislature. They currently hold 51. He also said that with 55 per cent of the public not wanting an election, forcing one now could backfire on the opposition.

All this is intriguing, considering the Conservatives are set to call for a non-confidence vote in Queen’s Park on Monday and demand they face the public over their handling of gas plants cancelled at politically-opportunistic times.

[ More Brew: Ontario Liberals to announce budget on May 2 ]

The Dalton McGuinty-led Liberals cancelled construction of a gas plant on the border between Toronto and Mississauga ahead of the 2011 provincial election, at a reported cost of $275 million.

That plant, and another cancelled in Oakville, are at the centre of a years-long controversy that has key members of the Liberal party facing questions at a public inquiry.

“Ontarians deserve the truth about the politically-motivated cancellations in a desperate attempt to win an election,” PC MPP Lisa MacLeod said in a statement last week. “Unfortunately, the McGuinty-Wynne Liberals are more focused on protecting their political skins.”

The kicker, however, is that the PCs can demand a non-confidence vote all they want, but Ontario's parliamentary rules state they need consensus from all parties before it can proceed. And while the NDP may or may not agree to hold such a debate, the Liberals have said they would not consent and it is highly unlikely they will change their position now, with their budget set to be announced later this week.

That budget is expected to contain some treats from the NDP’s list of demands, so one wonders whether the NDP would be willing to lose the budget to a snap election, either.

Then again, if the Forum Research numbers are to be believed, the Liberals are siphoning support from the left-of-centre party. So perhaps Horwath is ready to shake things up.