On Tuesday June 3, the Ontario’s Leader’s Debate took place. While there may have been no clear winner, a majority of the debate consisted of NDP Leader, Andrea Horwath and Progressive Conservative Party Leader, Tim Hudak, drilling Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne with questions concerning the controversial gas-powered electricity plant scandal, all before the three parties turned their attention to their plans for the economy.
A hard-hitting question regarding the $1 billion that the provincial government paid to have two gas-powered electricity plants west of Toronto turned into a debate about how the Liberals handled their mistake and how Wynne was involved specifically.
“You had a choice when you were going to sign off on those gas plant documents. You had a choice. Why did you not choose to stand up for the people of Ontario and ensure that those documents weren’t signed,” Horwath confronted Wynne on her own involvement on the issue. Hudak added, “You had a choice. You had an opportunity. You could have said no and saved us a billion dollars… Why didn’t you just say no?”
Wynne did not make eye contact with her opponents but rather looked directly at the camera as if to speak directly to her voters, replying “I’ve said that the decisions weren’t right. I did not direct all of the decisions, and I have said that they were wrong… I acted to make changes that would ensure that that would not happen again.” Wynne struggled to get a word in for much of the debate as Hudak and Horwath dominated a majority of the dialogue.
However, Wynne was not the only one whose actions were scrutinized during the debate. Hudak was also put in the hot seat concerning his One Million Jobs plan, which has been a topic of much conversation amongst Ontarians.
The concern and confusion on the issue stems from the party’s pledge to create a million jobs in Ontario while simultaneously ridding of 100 000 employees in the public-sector. He defended this by saying they would not be removing employees but rather would not be hiring to replace those retiring from that same position. He posited that the provincial government’s deficit is the largest impediment to job growth in the province which is why he suggest that spending needs to be cut down.
“We need to balance the books. That’s the biggest load we have on our back that’s holding back job creation.”
Earlier in the debate, Hudak said that he would remove any cabinet ministers who were involved in any scandals like eHealth or the gas plants. As for cutting spending, he suggested contracting out Go Transit Buses and eliminations positions at the Ontario Power Authority which he deemed were no longer necessary. He also promised that if the million-job target plan isn’t reached during the eight years intended, that would resign as premier.
Horwath and Wynne both took the opportunity to point out the flaws in the PC party’s million-job action plan. Horwath commented to viewers, “I know that you’re concerned with a plan that somehow is going to bring a million jobs is also going to kick 100 000 families to the curb. That’s not what we need in Ontario”.
Wynne stated that the plan is “based on a flawed premise that no economists have agreed to.” She further emphasized that the economic course the Liberals have set out since the 2008 recession which involves keeping program-spending the “leanest per capita” of all provincial governments in the country while not shying away from current tax levels because “taxes are the price of looking after each other.”
In an attempt to draw business to the province, the Liberal party calls for $2.5 billion over ten years in grants to give to corporations, a platform that both Horwath and Hudak disagree with. Both disagree with handouts of large amount of money to private companies.
Lastly, the three parties debated about transportation in Ontario, an issue prominently belonging to the NDP platform.
Horwath reiterated her party’s pledge to making driving in Ontario more affordable for middle-class families by bringing auto insurance rates down 15 per cent from their current rates and by getting rid of any road tolls or vehicle taxes. She also attacked Wynne for her party approving an express train from downtown Toronto to the city’s airport which is powered by diesel.
“The Liberals are putting a dirty diesel train right through downtown neighbourhoods. It makes no sense whatsoever.”
Wynne explained that the train had to be built quickly for the 2015 Pan Am Games that will be taking place in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area and assured that in time the train will be converted to run on electricity.
After the debate, the leaders of the parties talked with reporters outside the studio and when asked if she was nervous in her first leader’s debate, Wynne stated that it was up to the people of Ontario to decide how she did. Overall, a strong debate performance makes no guarantees that a party will win an election and while one party may have outshone another, this will not necessarily translate into votes.