ontario news watch

When is a fixed election date not a fixed election date? When you seemingly disregard a set-in-stone rule and attempt to set a new date for an election that’s more to your liking.

That’s what some Ontarians may have thought when they heard Premier Doug Ford was thinking about an early election call. Or was something completely different at play? I believe it’s the latter.

Ford is reportedly “considering an early election call before the scheduled 2026 vote over concerns about cuts a future federal Conservative government might impose,” according to the Toronto Star’s Robert Benzie and Rob Ferguson. “Sources say Ford is worried that if, as polls suggest, Pierre Poilievre wins an election expected in October 2025, there would be reduced transfer payments to the provinces,” they wrote on May 28, which means “a scrapping of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s electric-vehicle strategy that is a cornerstone of Ontario economic policy and other slashed spending that would hurt the Progressive Conservatives.”

There’s the added belief a federal Conservative government would help the electoral fortunes of Bonnie Crombie and the Ontario Liberals.

This follows Prof. Frank Underhill’s theory that Ontario voters prefer having different federal and provincial parties in power simultaneously. “In the 1870s and 1880s and early 1890s many a good Ontario citizen would vote Grit in provincial politics,” he wrote in the now-defunct Canadian Forumin 1946, “and then, appalled at the thought of Grit domination of the whole of Canada, he would turn around and help re-elect [Sir John A.] Macdonald in federal politics. Just so today. Thousands of Ontario voters last summer, after putting Mr. [George] Drew into office, turned round within a week and helped the rest of Canada to make sure that Ontario tories should not dominate the Dominion.”

Underhill’s balance theory had historical merit. This concept has largely dissipated, however. Ontario voters have moved away from a need for political balance to a desire for ideological consistency. Voting for a federal Conservative government and provincial Ontario PC government, much like voting for a federal Liberal government and Ontario Liberal government, is gradually becoming the norm rather than an exception to the rule.

If Ford and his senior advisers are worried about this, they shouldn’t be.

Benzie and Ferguson also suggested an early election call is a “major reason why the premier is paying the Beer Store $225 million to liberalize booze sales as of this fall.” That’s more than a year ahead of schedule, which some of Ford’s critics claim “could actually cost taxpayers between $600 million and $1 billion.”

Ford didn’t address or commit to holding a planned provincial election in June 2026 during last week’s announcement about the Beer Store. He simply stated, “I just want to get our agenda through.” When Toronto radio host Jerry Agar pressed Ford on May 28 about the possibility of an early election call, the latter told him, “again, I can’t answer that. I just can’t right now.” Agar responded, “well, who else can?,” which led to the Premier’s retort, “Jerry, Jerry, as far as I’m concerned we’re going to focus on our agenda, getting things done and the people are going to decide – that’s what’s beautiful about a democracy.”

Ford also added this small statement, “stay tuned.”

Hold on. Why should Ontarians stay tuned if he can’t call an early election? The Election Statute Law Amendment Act, 2005, which was passed by then-Premier Dalton McGuinty and the Liberals, noted that provincial elections held after Oct. 4, 2007 would be scheduled “on the first Thursday in October in the fourth calendar year following polling day in the most recent general election.” This has been adjusted twice. The 2007 election was shifted to Oct. 10 because of the Jewish holiday of Shemini Atzeret, and the Election Statute Law Amendment Act, 2016switched it to “the first Thursday in June in the fourth calendar year following polling day in the most recent general election.”

Ah, but there are some exceptions to fixed election dates.

The most obvious is a minority government situation. Political parties in Canada with less than 50 percent of seats in a federal or provincial legislature typically last about 18 months. Formal and informal coalitions with other parties can extend their stay. The three year work-and-supply agreement between the federal Liberals and NDP has given Prime Minister Justin Trudeau an additional lease on life. Generally speaking, however, a fixed election date for minority governments is a near-impossibility.

Ford doesn’t have to worry about this situation. The Ontario PCs won successive majority governments in 2018 and 2022. The latter is one of the largest majority governments in Ontario’s history.

That being said, Ontario’s election law includes the following passage, “Nothing in this section affects the powers of the Lieutenant Governor, including the power to dissolve the Legislature, by proclamation in Her Majesty’s name, when the Lieutenant Governor sees fit.” If an Ontario Premier with a majority government could convince a Lieutenant Governor that an early election was necessary, the fixed election date could be bypassed.

Is this what Ford is trying to do? I don’t believe so.

It’s more likely the Premier is stirring the pot to make people think a snap election is possible. A touch of smoke and mirrors in politics isn’t unusual, after all. Or, he’s simply trying to give himself a leg up on present and future negotiations with Trudeau and, at some point, Poilievre. That’s not impossible to believe, either.

Either way, it gets people talking about Doug Ford’s Ontario, political machinations as we get closer to summer – and whether fixed election dates actually make a difference.

Michael Taube, a longtime newspaper columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.