Let the debate begin. And since it’s the only scheduled event in which Ontario’s three major party leaders will go head-to-head over policies and promises, it had better be enlightening for voters.
Tuesday night’s debate must focus on the key issues that affect the province’s prosperity, the education and economic future of its youth and the health care of its rapidly aging boomer generation.
With that in mind, Ontarians need to hear answers to key questions from the leaders fighting for the province’s top job.
For Premier Kathleen Wynne:
• How do we pay for social justice and job creation programs without bankrupting the province? Ontario’s $12.5-billion deficit is projected to rise and Wynne has yet to present a convincing strategy to eliminate it by her promised deadline of 2017-18.
• How will the government create the highly educated workforce necessary for Ontario’s long-term prosperity when students are struggling with math and science in schools? Unless the government takes immediate action, the province’s curriculum will continue to fail Ontario’s young people.
• How will Ontario manage the growing number of seniors with dementia? Wynne has called this cognitive disorder one of Canada’s leading health problems. But she has yet to set out a strategy that would deliver proper care in nursing homes without relying on deadly anti-psychotic drugs.
For Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak, whose mathematically flawed jobs plan has been debunked by a bevy of leading economists:
• Will Hudak finally come clean and acknowledge that his promise to create 500,000 private sector jobs will actually result in only about 75,000? And, how will he square this vastly diminished number with his plan to cut 100,000 public sector jobs?
• Since Hudak is clearly targeting education — with promised cuts to teachers, their assistants and school support staff — how will he improve math and science grades as he has promised?
• Ontarians value their public services and Hudak has yet to explain how his drastic austerity measures will leave those services intact or enhanced. Can he guarantee to voters that they won’t suffer in the wake of his cuts?
For NDP Leader Andrea Horwath: She’s mainly responsible for this election, after refusing to support the Liberals’ progressive budget. Yet she has not offered a convincing reason for going to the polls beyond saying that she’s fed up with Liberal “corruption.”
• How would she save a promised $600 million when her plan to cut ministries and cap CEO salaries in the public sector would deliver only a fraction of that? Ontarians are owed a better explanation of how the province’s financial challenges would be met – from all the leaders.
• How is Horwath’s $29-billion plan to fight traffic gridlock in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area better or different than the Liberals’ plan, which would cost the same amount? Horwath needs to do a better job of differentiating her rather thin policy platform from the more comprehensive package promised by Wynne. If there’s no obvious difference, why should voters choose her party?
• For perhaps the first time in Ontario history, the Liberal party is campaigning on a stronger social justice platform than the New Democrats. How does Horwath explain or excuse this dramatic turnaround? And in view of that reversal, why should supporters of social causes entrust their vote to her?
Given the sorry state of the campaigning so far, voters may well not hear sound and persuasive answers to many of these questions. But the leaders should be held to account if they don’t come through.
Expect much of the debate to be the usual name-calling, obfuscation, self-promotion and denials. Considering the Liberal government’s track record on the $1.1-billion gas plant cancellation, along with the eHealth and ORNGE scandals, both Hudak and Horwath will in all likelihood go on the attack over financial mismanagement by the Liberals.
Wynne has sought to insulate herself by apologizing repeatedly for the mistakes of her predecessor, former premier Dalton McGuinty. The extent to which she’s able to defuse these allegations will likely determine the winner of the night. But it will be a shame if the only full-scale leaders’ debate of this campaign amounts to no more than that.