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A New Way of Campaigning for the 2018 Ontario Election

(From left to right): Blaine Mackie, Darrell Bricker, Dan Mader, Jane Taber, Jonathan Litwack, Bob Richardson

NATIONAL’s Ontario Public Affairs team brought together the best and the brightest from the fields of public opinion research, polling, government relations and the media Wednesday morning for breakfast – and a frank chat about the issues and challenges facing the politicians and public for Ontario election 2018.

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A New Way of Campaigning for Ontario Election 2018

Ontario Election 2018 will be like no election we have experienced before – modern, digital and in the moment.

It means political parties have so much more to contend with than they did in past elections, from traditional to social media to citizen journalists and the always on multi-channel universe.

Election 2018 could also be a so-called “change” election with the Liberal Party, which has been in power since 2003, replaced by either the Progressive Conservatives or the NDP.

Much is at stake.

NATIONAL’s Ontario Public Affairs team brought together the best and the brightest from the fields of public opinion research, polling, government relations and the media Wednesday morning for breakfast – and a frank chat about the issues and challenges facing the politicians and public for Ontario election 2018.

We heard the June 2018 campaign will be fought under new political financing rules. The ubiquity of social media combined with traditional media will also play a major factor.

Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs, and an author and veteran public opinion researcher, described the current political landscape. He says Ontario politics is pretty easy to understand.

Here’s how he described it:

  • The incumbent Kathleen Wynne and her Liberals win if they can unite the ridings with the Toronto 416 area codes and those in suburban Toronto with the 905 codes.
  • The Progressive Conservatives under rookie leader Patrick Brown win when they can unite rural and small town Ontario with the 905 region.
  • The NDP and veteran leader Andrea Horwath win when the Liberals become the “untenable flag bearer for the progressive option.”

“So, if we go into a campaign in which the Liberals become untenable then that’s when the NDP starts to become an option people will consider,” said Mr. Bricker.

The PCs are currently leading the Liberals and NDP in the public opinion polls.

Jobs, the economy, lower taxes and lower energy rates will be among the top election issues.

The 2018 campaign will not just be fought in the traditional media. Social media will be a big battleground, and identifying who is influencing the conversations around important issues will be crucial.

NATIONAL Public Relations’ data scientists, Jonathan Litwack and Blaine Mackie, mapped the influencers and their conversations around the controversial issue of Hydro One.

Their observations showed that Queen’s Park and the media are not the only ones controlling the conversations. The two, through their research, identified a woman named Karen from Peterborough whose reach on social media on the hydro issue is vast, and potentially influencing the debate.

The key is to tap into her network, and be able to know exactly what the conversations around the issues are. It takes the second-guessing out of the equation, noted Mr. Litwack.

“Ultimately, as we ramp up for this election, the question is: Do you know your Karens?” he said.

NATIONAL’s senior counsel Bob Richardson, a veteran politico, meanwhile, suggested businesses also look to influencers as they approach campaigns.

“From a business perspective if you are looking to influence the campaign … it can’t be just the old traditional style of government relations,” said Mr. Richardson. “It’s going to have to be modern, it’s going to have to be very focused and integrated.”

Adding to that, Dan Mader, NATIONAL’s senior vice president in Ottawa, who also knows his way around a campaign having worked on provincial campaigns in the past, noted the 2018 campaign will still be augmented with some of the tried and true methods.

“You need everything in this,” he said. “You need a co-ordinated message around everything. You need to be talking to people in all of the parties. You need to be thinking about your PR and your advertising strategy and your high level air game. But then you also have to be thinking about the influencers and how you can reach them.”

He said that more and more the conversations on social media will be targeted through paid messages from the parties. And an individual might not even realize where it is coming from.

The clock is ticking down between now and Ontario election 2018 – so by the time you read this, there may only be 266 days or 265 days between now and June 7, 2018.

The parties’ agendas are yet to be set – so there’s time to get your issues heard to insert your voice into the election conversation.