Ontario voters had good reason to be disappointed with Tuesday night’s leaders’ debate. When they asked for answers, they got talking points. Where they needed vision, they got a recitation of facts. And where they needed facts, they got bromides. In particular, the opposition parties, who claim to be governments-in-waiting, need to say and justify what they are for, not just what they are against.
The Liberal leader, Premier Dalton McGuinty, offered the most in terms of substantive policy. He spoke in detail about his government’s achievements in and aspirations for health, education and the green energy economy, despite the flaws in rolling out the latter. But his barrage of data points and his distracting manner made it difficult for him to connect with the voters.
“One of the responsibilities of leadership is to find an opening, and run through it,” said Mr. McGuinty. Voters may dispute his choice of openings, but at least Mr. McGuinty is driving the conversation.
For Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak, there is just one opening: Mr. McGuinty himself. Mr. Hudak is skilled with sound bites that reveal the Premier’s weaknesses, on taxes and job creation. But Mr. Hudak did not show that he grasps the difficult choices of government. For instance, Ontario’s 630-some agencies, boards and commissions may be a few too many. Eliminating some of them, though, will not eliminate the province’s deficit.
And then on Wednesday, Mr. Hudak confirmed the worst by talking about his party’s plan for chain gangs – forcing provincial prisoners to do manual labour in public places. That’s not the kind of priority that solves Ontario’s toughest problems. Mr. Hudak has a week to convince Ontarians he is not just a wedge-wielding empty suit.
Andrea Horwath, the NDP Leader, showed command of her party’s message and a sensitivity to the plight of many Ontarians. Her plan for job creation – a massive, open-ended hiring credit for firms, coupled with a massive corporate tax increase – went largely unchallenged, and that’s a good thing for her, because it will wreck the economy while bringing in little of the revenue that she promises.
The parties have a week to clearly communicate their plan to navigate the province through a time in which Ontario’s economy, public services and public finances will all be subject to significant stresses.