Leaders of Ontario's three biggest political parties served up an often testy debate on Sunday night as Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne sought to defend her record in government against two contenders fighting tooth and nail to replace her as premier.
With New Democratic Party leader Andrea Horwath consistently cutting off her rivals and Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford relying on simplistic slogans in the absence of policy depth, Wynne made a concerted effort to paint herself as the politician most able to balance the conflicting needs and wants of the province’s electorate.
“Sorry, not sorry,” Wynne said in her opening statement of the third and final televised debate before the June 7 election. “I’m really genuinely sorry that more people don’t like me. But I am not sorry about all the things we’re doing in Ontario to make life better. I’m not sorry that we’re covering tuition for 235,000 students. I’m not sorry that we’re protecting the environment. And I’m really not sorry that we’re no longer asking single moms to raise a family on $11.40 an hour.”
But it remains to be seen if her performance was enough to lift her fortunes, with latest polling data giving Horwath’s NDP on average of 36 per cent support and the PC’s Ford 35.9 per cent, according to the CBC Poll Tracker, which aggregates all publicly available polling data. The governing Liberals of Wynne are trailing at 21 percent, while the Greens have 5.5 percent.
Moderators struggled to stop audience interruptions
In terms of seat projections, the Conservatives are still most likely to have the chance to form government after the June 7 vote, with 70 of the 124 ridings going their way, according to the CBC’s tracker.
With the moderators, Steve Paikin from TVO and Farrah Nasser from Global News, struggling to get the audience not to applaud at the soundbites they most liked throughout the 90-minute debate, much of the debate focused on healthcare, childcare, Hydro One and the economy.
Meanwhile Ford, who has promised to cut $6 billion a year from Ontario’s budget but has not said how he plans to do so, again failed to explain what cuts he would make to government services or how deep a deficit he would sink to do so.
“Mr. Ford, I think if you had a plan you would share it with the people of Ontario,” Wynne said. “I think you would tell people exactly what you are going to do and you would tell them what services you are going to cut, and why you are going to cut it and why that would be good for them.”
“I will turn this province around,” Ford said. “And we will have this province moving like you’ve never seen before. We’ll see economic growth, new jobs being created the likes this province has never seen.”
'You wouldn't buy a used car without looking under the hood,' Horwath said
At another point while Ford was promising an economic wonderland, Horwath interrupted him. “You wouldn’t buy a used car without looking under the hood, why should anyone buy your plan without seeing it?” she asked.
At one point while Doug Ford was promising an economic wonderland, Andrea Horwath interrupted him. “You wouldn’t buy a used car without looking under the hood, why should anyone buy your plan without seeing it?” she asked. #onpoli
Ford, who claimed that scores of businesspeople and doctors across the province say he is the only one who can be trusted to run Ontario, was given a rebuke on that point from one medical professional.
“I am an #OntarioDoctor and I believe politicians should work hard to earn my support before assuming I support them. I also respect my patients enough to know they can make informed choices on who to support,” Dr Javeed Sukhera wrote on Twitter.
I am an #OntarioDoctor and I believe politicians should work hard to earn my support before assuming I support them. I also respect my patients enough to know they can make informed choices on who to support. #onpoli @TheAgenda #ONElxn— Dr Javeed Sukhera (@javeedsukhera) May 27, 2018
Ford asked if he believes in global warming
Ford was later asked by a member of the audience whether he believes in global warming, and if so what concrete proposals he has to tackle it. He didn’t provide any detail on how his government might keep emissions in check and that he opposes measures that help to reduce CO2 emissions, including a carbon tax and the cap and trade scheme currently in place in Ontario.
“I actually believe in man-made global warming,” he said. “But what I don’t believe in, my friends, is putting an artificial tax called a carbon tax, cap and trade, that does absolutely nothing to help the environment.”
Wynne defended the cap and trade scheme, saying “it tackles climate change, reduces pollution, and it actually puts the onus on the people who are producing that pollution to pay.”
Green Party leader Mike Schreiner, who has been kept out of the leadership debates on the basis that his party does not currently have a seat at Queen’s Park, said at an ‘Infiltrate the Debate’ event in the Guelph riding whose seat he is seeking that Ford’s “understanding of carbon pricing is absurd.”
One of the most rancorous part of the debate occurred after Wynne asked Horwath if she really understood what it meant to guarantee that an NDP government would not use back-to-work legislation against public sector unions.
Referencing the NDP’s recent blocking of such legislation to get staff at York University back to school, Wynne said Horwath “would put Ontario permanently on strike or you’d empty the public purse to pay off huge union demands.”
Horwath responded that she would prevent such disputes from arising in the first place, saying that when the government creates “precarious work in their workplace, then you’re going to end up in labour disputes.”