All eyes are on Andrea Horwath. The really big question for the NDP leader is not "Will she or won't she pull the plug on Kathleen Wynne?" and force an election. It's more like "Is it now or later?" To compound the dilemma, some of her closest advisers think it's now or never. Will she ever be more popular?
Let's not discount the personal dynamic in her tussle with Wynne over the budget. Once, Horwath was the only woman leader on the scene. Now she's the other woman leader. She's got a branding problem. It's not just her and two suits any more.
Those on-again, off-again meetings with the premier are sending mixed signals. Does Horwath want to dance or what? To some, the conditions Horwath is putting on meeting look like roadblocks she's throwing up to avoid conferring at all. That's the Liberal spin. It's more likely Horwath is wary about being seen as propping up a scandal-plagued government.
The Young Turks in the caucus want to go to the polls, but the more seasoned members, most from Toronto, aren't so sure it's the most prudent option.
The push and pull in the party helps explain Horwath's interesting, sometimes confusing, game of cat and mouse. But it's alienating the kingpins in the NDP's traditional labour base, some of whom are very publicly advising her to bide her time. They're urging her to push for some kind of a formal accord with the Libs, something she can take to the electorate later as proof she's getting things done. The NDP leader has already managed to win a number of concessions from Wynne.
Horwath, though, has been taking a different tack, veering away from the party's social justice roots toward a more populist, lunch-bucket brand of politics. Hence the focus on auto insurance premiums, a potential winner in the 905, and other pocketbook issues. The fear is that this shift is losing urban lefties to the Libs. Her toing and froing on dedicated taxes to build transit, for example, is hurting the party in Toronto.
Horwath's turn is causing some in labour to rethink their financial support for the party. They look back to the David Peterson-Bob Rae Liberal-NDP accord in 1985 and point to big wins in employment equity, rent controls and labour law reform. While detractors point out that the accord only helped Peterson win a majority, it's easy to forget that it was Rae who won the following election.
There's never been a better time to make progressive change, they argue. If it's not this government and this third party that will do it, who will?
Who's to say the Liberals won't launch a pre-emptive strike and call an election?
The danger for Horwath, as if she doesn't have enough minefields to navigate, is that she'll overplay her hand, demand too much and prompt the Libs to call an election.
"Look, we gave you everything we promised, and it still wasn't enough. Let's take it to the people," the Liberals could say.
They're already calling this an "election" budget. Having adopted almost everything the NDP asked for, they're also expected to sprinkle in more money for home care and youth employment.
While most media discussion has focused on the Libs buying time for the electorate to get to know Wynne - the PCs think they're doing everything in their power to avoid an election - history shows there's a best-before date when it comes to leaders who've taken over while their party is in power. The shine starts to wear off after about eight months.
A few Grit strategists are casting a wary eye west to BC, where Liberal Christy Clark, another who took over the reins while her party was in power, may have waited too long to go to the polls. More than a year later, she's in the fight of her political life, trailing the NDP's Adrian Dix by double digits, with time running out.
Conversely, Alison Redford, the Tory premier of Alberta, who took over while her party was in power, pulled the trigger six months into her term - and won a majority.
Wynne hasn't ruled out calling an election. The glow from the recent election of that Trudeau guy can't hurt either.
The other interesting dynamic to note is the fact that a couple of by-elections take place in the next few months to fill seats vacated in the bloodletting after McGuinty stepped down. Rather than go through them separately, the Libs may see the risk they pose as an additional rationale for calling a general election.
For PC leader Tim Hudak, meanwhile, it's back to the future.
Say what you want about his failings - he's the only leader who's said clearly that he wants an election.
Is that because he wants to keep Tory critics of his leadership busy? Internal problems, Hudak has a few.
The PC leader has cast himself in the role of "change" candidate. But change to what?
His communications strategy, which has featured a number of white papers and media interviews with radio and newspapers across the province, has taken a curious turn recently, evoking the memory of Mike Harris. Do the PCs really think people want a Common Sense Revolution, Part Deux?
Public perception is another problem. Hudak's party is more popular than he is. Some have advocated softening his image, but the strident positions he's taken in those white papers haven't endeared him to the public.
One fear for Tory strategists: Hudak will go too negative and get lost in tangential issues like the "foreign" workers gaffe that sideswiped his campaign in 2011.
For all the behind-the-scenes discussion about tactics, an election, if it comes to that, will be won or lost by the leaders. That's especially true in Ontario, where voters have historically voted for the personality over the party.
What the poll numbers mean
For the Libs:
THE GOOD Wynne's personal popularity has been the one constant. The teachers' unions are onside, a biggie if the Kitchener-Waterloo by-election experience is any lesson. The Libs under Wynne also won't be starting in the same hole they did back in 2011.
THE BAD The unemployment numbers are wretched in a whole lot of small towns across the province. The polls also suggest there's a healthy appetite for change, and that's making some Libs nervous.
Party spinmeisters keep saying nobody within 100 metres of the Pink Palace gives a rat's ass about the gas plant cancellations in Oakville and Mississauga that ended with the Grits flushing half a bil in taxpayers' money down the drain. They're only half right.
The privatization of Big Power and its huge potential costs - the story behind Oakville and Mississauga - is arguably the bigger concern. The more the financial losses keep piling up, and they are daily, the more difficult the mess becomes to ignore.
For the NDP:
THE GOOD Horwath is still the most popular leader of the three. And despite declining poll numbers, she still has time to play a medium-range game, drag out budget deliberations till early June and determine then if the numbers are good enough to go for an election.
THE BAD It's not clear where the long-sought electoral breakthrough will come for the NDP. Also, the post-Jack Layton glow has dimmed.
For the PCs
THE GOOD There'll be no 20-point lead to blow this time? Just askin'.
THE BAD Hudak hasn't grown the vote. The proportion of Ontarians voting PC hasn't budged since some guy named Ernie Eves was party leader 10 years ago.