Dalton McGuinty haunts her still.
Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne was on the defensive throughout Tuesday’s televised election debate as both NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak re-ignited the McGuinty-era gas-plants’ scandal.
Wynne, who succeeded the former premier 15 months ago, at times struggled in the 90-minute debate as Horwath and Hudak tag-teamed her on the debacle.
“There was a breach of trust between government and the people of the province, but I assure you that I have taken action,” the Grit chief said.
“I am so sorry that public funds were wasted in the way that they were.”
The natural-gas fired power plants McGuinty cancelled in Oakville and Mississauga before the 2011 election could cost up to $1.1 billion over the next 20 years as they are relocated to Sarnia and Napanee.
Ontario Provincial Police are investigating deleted emails in the scandal after seizing 24 hard drives from the former premier’s office.
With voters heading to the polls on June 12, Horwath and Hudak channelled former federal Tory leader Brian Mulroney’s winning 1984 interrogation of then Liberal prime minister John Turner over patronage appointments as they hounded Wynne.
“You had a choice. Why did you not choose to stand up for the people of Ontario and ensure that those documents were not signed? You made a mistake,” said the NDP leader, referring to cabinet papers on negotiating a settlement for the Oakville plant scrapped in 2010.
“This debate is exactly about cleaning up corruption at the legislature down the street. The Liberals have betrayed you, they’ve lied to you and they’ve wasted billions and billions of your tax dollars. You don’t have to put up with a corrupt Liberal party that wastes your money.”
Hudak, 46, grinning with delight at Horwath’s prosecution of Wynne, echoed his New Democrat opponent.
“You’re the one who had a document in front of you. A document that cost the taxpayers over a billion dollars. “Why didn’t you just say, ‘No?’ ” he chided Wynne.
“You were the co-chair of the Liberal campaign. Yours is the signature that sold taxpayers up the river. You had a choice. You had an opportunity, you could have said ‘no’ and saved us a billion dollars,” he said.
“You know if the Kathleen Wynne Liberals get away with that gas-plant scandal, they’re going to do it again.”
Wynne, 61, who appeared tentative while under a relentless assault from both her rivals, repeatedly stammered during the first and only televised leadership debate of the campaign, broadcast live on CBC, CTV, Global, Sun News Network and TVOntario, and moderated by TVO’s Steve Paikin.
But she found her stride when discussing Hudak’s Million Jobs Plan, which has been ridiculed by some economists because its numbers don’t add up and his employment estimates are off, in some cases, by a factor of eight.
“There’s no evidence that your plan would create a million jobs,” said Wynne, who repeatedly noted Hudak “wants to fire 100,000 people” to balance the budget the year earlier than she hopes to do in 2017-18.
“What Tim Hudak is suggesting would actually push us back into recession.”
Horwath, 51, who was confident throughout the debate though she stumbled and appeared to forget her lines during her closing statement, painted herself as the only reasonable alternative to Wynne.
“You don’t have to choose between bad ethics and bad math,” she said.
“There’s no doubt Mr. Hudak’s Million Jobs Plan has a million mistakes in it. Your tough medicine is certainly not Buckley’s. It tastes awful but it’s not going to work.”
Trying to quell widespread doubts about his scheme, Hudak promised he would “resign” if he fails to create 1 million jobs over eight years or balance the books in 2016-17.
“I’ll step aside. It’s time we hold politicians to a higher standard,” he said.
Despite his bravado, Hudak had some stumbles of his own.
Bizarrely, he brought up his math prowess despite economists’ mocking it for days.
“When I was growing up my dad used to always give me math problems, maybe that explains why I’ve got this background in economics.”