Ontario Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty would cruise to a third straight election victory if health care was the only issue on voters' minds, a new poll suggests.
But the defining issues in the provincial election campaign will revolve around much more than just the state of the province's hospitals, prescription drug programs and long-term-care homes. The economy and high taxes together eclipse health care as the most important areas of concern for Ontarians.
In a Nanos poll conducted for The Globe and Mail last week, just over 26 per cent of those surveyed said health care was their No. 1 concern. The economy ranked second, at 16 per cent. But Ontarians are becoming increasingly concerned about high taxes, with 15 per cent citing that as their top issue, up from only 10.5 per cent in August.
The Progressive Conservatives' attack ads criticizing Mr. McGuinty's track record for raising taxes after promising not to do have been effective in making taxes a top-of-mind issue for more Ontarians, said Nik Nanos, president of the polling firm.
As well, Mr. Nanos said, the poll was done shortly after a historic referendum in British Columbia, where voters resoundingly rejected that province's harmonized sales tax. He said the referendum served to put the topic on the radar screens of voters in Ontario, which also introduced its own HST in 2010.
"A combination of those two factors increased the proportion of Ontarians who were concerned about high taxes," he said.
Mr. McGuinty's record on health care, however, ranks him as the most trusted leader to manage an area that consumes the biggest chunk of program spending. In the poll, 27 per cent of respondents picked him as their top choice. Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak was second, with 22 per cent, and New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath was in third place, with 16 per cent.
Mr. Hudak is trusted by more men than women, with a nearly 10-point gap between the two genders. For Ms. Horwath, it is just the opposite: more women than men trust her on health care.
The shortage of family doctors is the most pressing issue for voters, with 34 per cent of respondents citing that as their top concern. But this is followed closely behind by the long waits in many of the province's emergency departments and rising health care costs, which now consume about 44 per cent of program spending in Ontario.
Despite high prices at the gas pumps, the cost of filling up the tank barely registers as an issue for voters. The environment is also relegated to the sidelines, with only 3.3 per cent of respondents citing it as their top priority.
The poll was conducted as a random telephone survey of 1,005 Ontarians between Aug. 30 and Sept. 1. It is accurate within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.