Ontario’s voters have a question to consider in the wake of Tuesday evening’s provincial leadership debate:
Do you want to elect a leader who can spit out mid-debate zingers or someone with a strong plan for Ontario’s future? It’s best not to confuse well-rehearsed attack lines with the type of leadership needed to move the province forward.
It was no surprise that Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne was put on the defensive in what is the only debate among the three leaders before voters go to the polls on June 12. Placed between Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak and New Democrat Andrea Horwath, Wynne found herself relentlessly attacked from both sides.
Wynne looked often uncomfortable in the cut and thrust of debate, apologizing repeatedly for the string of mistakes and scandals committed by the Liberals under her predecessor, Dalton McGuinty – from the $1.1 billion bill for cancelled gas plants, to eHealth and ORNGE.
Those questions needed to be answered. The Liberals under McGuinty piled up a sorry record of mismanagement and waste during their years in office.
Still, it’s too bad there won’t be another leaders’ debate, one focused less on the past than on the important questions that must be asked about Ontario’s future.
While the opposition’s backward-looking critiques of the McGuinty era were as forceful as they were predictable, Ontario voters also need to consider where the Tories and the NDP would take the province.
And on that score, Hudak failed to counter Wynne’s warning that his pledge to cut 100,000 public sector jobs doesn’t risk driving Ontario into another recession, while Horwath didn’t put much of a program forward. Indeed, the NDP leader offered some good lines (“You don’t have to choose between bad ethics and bad math”) but had little positive to offer.
If there was an award for smiles, Hudak would get the win. With the economy and jobs the top issues for Ontarians, he had an advantage with dramatic promises, including a pledge to resign if he doesn’t carry out his plan.
Of course, it’s a meaningless promise – starting with the fact that his “million jobs” plan is spread across eight years, giving him two mandates before a resignation would be required.
More importantly, neither Wynne nor Horwath held the Tory leader properly to account for his widely discredited plan. Economists of all political leanings have discounted his job creation claims, saying the Tory plan is riddled with elementary mistakes and grossly overstates the number of jobs it would create.
Many voters were waiting for the debate before tuning into this long campaign and seriously considering their choice for a new government. Those who are still undecided would be well advised to focus more on substantive policy than on the rival leaders’ one-liners.
In the end, a debate is less important than a credible agenda, and on that score the opposition leaders have yet to make the case for their parties’ programs. Hudak and Horwath invited voters to choose them because, in the end, they’re not Liberals and don’t share in the scandals of the past few years. It’s a good debating line, but it’s not an agenda for the future.