Canada's Ontario to hold election next month as voters grapple with inflation
By Steve Scherer
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's most populous province, Ontario, will hold an election next month with incumbent Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford favored in polls and the campaign expected to focus on fighting inflation.
The provincial legislature has been dissolved and the election will be held on June 2, Ford's office said in a statement on Tuesday.
Ford, 57, swept to power in 2018, ending 15 years of Liberal rule in Ontario - home to nearly 40% of Canada's 38 million people. Ontario, which includes Toronto and capital city Ottawa, is Canada's manufacturing heartland and an economic engine.
All polls show Ford leading Liberal and New Democrat challengers by enough to win a majority of seats in the vote.
Inflation is at its highest level in 31 years, and the campaign "is going to be like an arms race to see who can make life more affordable," said David Coletto, chief executive of Abacus Data polling company.
An Abacus poll from last month showed Ford would win 36% of the vote compared with 32% for Liberal Steven Del Duca and 23% for New Democrat Andrea Horwath.
Ford, whose older brother Rob admitted to smoking crack cocaine while mayor of Toronto and died of cancer in 2016, dipped in popularity when he bickered with teachers over cuts to school funding and later during the pandemic, when critics said he failed to heed the advice of doctors.
He has recovered this year, in part by eliminating an unpopular license plate renewal fee. He also broadened and boosted a foreign buyer tax on Ontario homes, an effort to limit house price gains. Last week he promised major investments in roads and highways, and a tax break for low earners if he is re-elected.
Ontarian voters now do not appear to want a change in government as they did four years ago, said Shachi Kurl, president of the Angus Reid Institute polling company.
"Right now we don't see either Ms. Horwath and Mr. Del Duca emerging as the dominant leader on the left," Kurl said.
If Ford cannot achieve a majority, the two left-leaning leaders could keep him out of office by joining forces. Federal Liberals now are being supported by the New Democrats, a deal made to keep Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in power until 2025.
Liberal Del Duca has promised to fight inflation by reducing public transit fares across the province to C$1 ($0.78) and to cut a portion of sales tax for food purchases under C$20, funding this with a surtax on companies with annual profits exceeding C$1 billion.
New Democrat Horwath also said she would tackle housing prices by creating an annual speculation and vacancy tax on residential property.
($1 = 1.2838 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by David Gregorio)