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Hey Ontario, Where's the Rage?

It just doesn't feel like the anger is there this time. This is not to suggest that there aren't a lot of disappointed Ontarians, but there isn't enough fury directed at the Liberals to produce the kind of epic sacking that seemed in store for them.

With the kick-off to Ontario's 40th general election on Oct. 6, The Huffington Post Canada kicks off its coverage with lively, ongoing debates between three of the smartest and most plugged-in politicos in the province: John Duffy arguing for the McGuinty camp; Jason Lietaer (@jasonlietaer) in Hudak's corner; and Heather Fraser (@ottawafraser) duking it out for Horwath. Check in with every weekday for the freshest and best election coverage on the web.

John Duffy (Liberal):

"Rage -- Goddess, sing the rage of Ontario's voters Murderous, mad, that cost the Liberals countless losses..."

In all of the analysis and colour commentary of the final scramble to Thursday, perhaps the most important factor will be an absence: where's the rage? The above verse, freely adapted from The Iliad, was supposed to be the narrative of campaign 2011. Both Mr. Hudak and Ms. Horwath invested heavily in this dynamic. Mr. Hudak's platform opens with an almost biblical cry: "We look at the last eight years and say... 'enough.'"

"Anger is a big motivator for me," revealed Ms. Horwath to the Toronto Star in an interview published last weekend. "It's part of why I do what I do. If I weren't angry, I'd be overcome by frustration."

Both Mr. Hudak and Ms. Horwath calibrated their campaigns carefully to exploit an anticipated tide of public anger, with Ms. Horwath adding a Layton-esque accent of positive optimism to the mix. But it just doesn't feel like the anger is there this time. It's not in the kitchen table interviews that Mr. Hudak is still doing. Nor is it in the micro-"rallies" that Ms. Horwath is now playing to. It certainly isn't in the 1,000-person plus venues that the premier is currently touring. This is not to suggest for one second that there aren't a lot of very disappointed, and dispirited, even worried Ontarians. Or that in many parts of the province that have been hardest hit, there isn't reason for resentment and an undercurrent to be tapped. Just that there isn't enough fury directed at the Liberals to produce the kind of epic sacking that seemed in store for them even just four months ago.

Here's another place it hasn't shown up: the advance poll. We spoke about it last week. It's a little risky to read too much into the information here, but here goes. By most measures, this is a low-engagement election, likely to continue the downward turnout trend that has taken hold in provincial politics. Many are expecting a reduced turnout from 2007's level. Yet the advance poll went up from 450,000 in 2007 to 625,000 last week. What gives? Either it's a bump based on a wave of anger or, and I think this more likely, it means that there's some really good field organization at work out here. Conventional wisdom has it that contemporary Conservatives have a better Get Out The Vote machine, and that the NDP, in the ridings they compete for, has a reliable phalanx of trade union and NGO organizers who march the voters to the polls. But a bump of this size suggests to me that the Liberal organization is doing its job, too.

From here on in, this is the kind of factor that matters most -- not what leaders say or do, let alone what threads we spinners weave. In a neck-and-neck, house-by-house, riding-by-riding contest like the one we're in, ground level organization is going to make the difference. And it looks like on that score, the competition will be very evenly matched as well. That, and not the predicted populist wave of anger, will determine who prevails two nights from now.

Jason Lietaer (PC):

Wow! John's bringing out the big guns with the Homer quotes. I did not expect that.

We're down to the short strokes and the ground game. I sense that everybody's a bit tired, a bit cranky and ready for this one to be over.

I laughed out loud the other day when Rob Benzie of the Toronto Star tweeted the front page from election night in 1985. David Peterson at the time was quoted saying he was not talking to the NDP, and that he wouldn't form some kind of accord. So I opened up the history books. Guess what I found?

A list of 15 individual tax hikes in the 1985 budget alone. I imagine John remembers a few of these. Here's a partial list:

-- Personal income tax hike, from 48 per cent of basic federal tax to 50 per cent.

-- Personal income tax surtax of three per cent.

-- Corporate income tax hiked from 15 per cent to 15.5 per cent.

-- Manufacturing tax went from 14 per cent to 14.5 per cent.

-- Reinstatement of the tax on Maple Leaf gold coins.

-- Fuel tax measures to increase revenues.

-- Increase to liquor, wine and beer mark-ups.

Man, that's a lot of tax hikes. Of course, the combined take on these tax increases is nothing compared to those of Mr McGuinty from the last couple years.

The moral of the story? If you vote for the Liberals -- whether or not they are propped up by the NDP -- they will hike taxes.

It's pretty much in the hands of the voters now, as efforts turn away from the provincial and to the local. I won't quote Sun Tzu on the the knowledge of terrian, but I'll paraphrase: if you want to win locally, he who knows the ground best will prevail.

Heather Fraser (NDP):

It would seem that we are lobbing quotes today. I'll play along.

Here's one from Yogi Berra. "In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, there is." Liberals don't get that you have to get out and talk to people, visit the north, tell the truth about contracts, spend money wisely. In practice the Liberals have let Ontarians down.

John says that Ontarians aren't angry. Phew. What a relief! The voters are only "disappointed," "dispirited" and "even worried" according to the Liberals. Well I guess that means the status quo is just fine. To be satisfied that you might just win because the voters aren't mad enough yet is truly cynical. How about we aim to do better?

McGuinty has spent tens of millions of dollars on CEO salaries, while people wait in emergency rooms. In Mississauga McGuinty has shown that he only cares about saving an MPPs skin, not what's best for the community. He has allowed jobs and businesses to leave the province while he hands out blank cheques to these very same businesses, and he promised that he wouldn't increase taxes and then broke that promise. If the voters aren't angry yet, give them four more years of flawed policies like these and see what happens.

And Jason, I'm sorry: the tax on maple leaf gold coins? This is up there with a monocle and gold-plated humvee tax as far as ballot questions go. And you are clearly reaching to find something that will stick.

Voters want to know what to expect and when from their leaders. This is exactly why Horwath has laid out the five goals for the first 100 days. Practical honest solutions, grounded in the sincere belief that we can do better.

Indeed the results are in the hands of voters -- riding by riding. I am confident that when it comes time to place their ballots in the box, voters will be looking for the candidate and the party that will offer a positive choice. And on that score, Andrea Horwath and the NDP come out ahead.

John Duffy, political strategist for the Ontario Liberal election campaign, is also the founder of StrategyCorp and author of author of 'Fights of Our Lives: Elections, Leadership and the Making of Canada.' Jason Lietaer, the Hudak campaign's communications director, is also the vice president of public affairs of Enterprise Canada. Heather Fraser, representing the NDP, is the director of communications for the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

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