As the Ontario election campaign winds down, all three party leaders are targeting key battleground ridings.
Andrea Horwath’s plans for Ontario's economy have drawn fire for their protectionist bent, but the NDP chief continued to pump proposals to stop companies from taking lumber and minerals out of the province for processing as she made a final dash across the north.
The NDP has high hopes that its deep roots in the region and disaffection over the loss of blue-collar jobs will help it oust Liberal MPPs, including two cabinet ministers.
On her fourth visit to the area, Ms. Horwath returned to familiar themes, vowing to end northern alienation.
“You have a choice on Oct. 6: you can choose a government that puts the north first,” she said at a rally in a Thunder Bay park on Tuesday afternoon. “Or you can choose a government that continues to ship away our resources and jobs along with it.”
Critics have said the NDP promise to compel companies to process resources in Ontario, along with a pledge to hike corporate taxes, would put a chill on investment. But these ideas are clearly resonating across the region.
Ms. Horwath is keeping up a frenetic pace, appearing at two rallies, holding three press conferences and packing the rest of her time with media appearances across the north on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, she plans a whistle-stop tour of eight ridings across southern Ontario. They will include Oshawa and Niagara Falls, blue-collar towns hit hard by the decline of the manufacturing sector. Both are fertile ground for the NDP: like the north, they are filled with working class voters, union workers and frustration over lack of jobs.
Her itinerary will also include stops in Waterloo Region and across the suburbs of Toronto, which will likely be the battleground on which the fight for Queen's Park is won.
Tim Hudak set the tone for his final campaign push early Tuesday – he took his fight right into the heart of Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty’s Ottawa South riding.
Earlier in the campaign, it would have been easy to dismiss the early morning diner appearance as just another campaign stop. It had all the usual markers – some “real people” sitting around a table with the leader chatting about his talking points of the day, mention of lower taxes, and dozens of references to Mr. McGuinty.
With polls starting to show the Liberals moving ahead in key races across the province, Mr. Hudak will spend the campaign’s last hours visiting Liberal-held ridings. On Tuesday, it was Ottawa South, Prince Edward Hastings, Peterborough and Pickering-Scarborough East. Wednesday’s itinerary wasn’t set in stone, but party officials said the plan was to stay close to the GTA.
“Ontario simply cannot afford four more years of Dalton McGuinty,” Mr. Hudak said, sticking to well-rehearsed lines. “It’s time for change.”
In a campaign that has had its share of distracting sideshows – including a week-long battle over a Liberal tax credit for employers who hire immigrants, and days spent defending a flyer that many decried as homophobic – Mr. Hudak’s main message is all about persuading voters that the only way to effect change in the province is to vote for his party.
“One thing I am worried about is that the Liberals and the NDP get together in some kind of coalition and what that’s going to mean for tax hikes,” he said on Tuesday. “I think families have every right to be concerned about the Liberals being propped up by the NDP.”
Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty began his day at Our Lady of Fatima school in Cambridge, where he and his wife, Terri, a kindergarten teacher, read a story, “Born To Read,” to Grade 2 students.
The so-called education premier wasn’t there just to highlight his policies for improvements to the province’s schools. He was in a riding that was once the core of Progressive Conservative premier Mike Harris’s support.
Gerry Martiniuk held on to the Cambridge riding in 2003 and 2007 even as the Liberal tide washed away more prominent Tories. But with Mr. Martiniuk’s retirement and Cambridge becoming more urban and ethnically diverse, the Liberals think they have a good chance of winning the seat. Tuesday was Mr. McGuinty’s third visit.
From there, Mr. McGuinty headed to Caruso Gourmet Pizza in Bolton, where he threw toppings on a pie. Bolton is in the riding of Dufferin-Caledon, another traditional Tory stronghold. The Liberals not only have a strong candidate, community worker Lori Holloway, they have promised an environmental review of a controversial quarry project.
Ms. Holloway said the mega quarry is front and centre in the riding. She said she is sensing tremendous momentum. “We’ve never had so many sign requests,” she told reporters.
Mr. McGuinty continued on his swing through the Greater Toronto Area by travelling east along the 401 Highway to Pickering for a rally. The Pickering-Scarborough East riding has no incumbent because Liberal MPP Wayne Arthurs is retiring.
The ground war over a string of ridings in southern Ontario will continue on Wednesday in Windsor, where the Liberals are in a tight race to retain a seat vacated by cabinet minister Sandra Pupatello.
Mr. McGuinty will then make his way east again to the GTA, visiting Oakville and Burlington.