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The week ahead

Expect McGuinty to fan flames, Hudak to pivot and Horwath to drop gloves Add to ...

Dalton McGuinty adopted his best Premier Dad tone on Sunday when he rebuked Tim Hudak for assailing a Liberal tax credit scheme as an “affirmative action plan for foreign workers” – and that was intentional.

Mr. McGuinty thinks he has found an issue that makes it abundantly clear the Progressive Conservative Leader is not ready to govern Canada's largest province. As a result, voters can expect to hear a lot more this week about an issue that is already dominating the election campaign.

The Liberals want the race for Ontario’s Oct. 6 election to be all about leadership, a clear choice between the veteran with a steady hand on the fragile economy and the rookie who they say has no core set of beliefs.

Mr. Hudak's reaction to the program, which would allow businesses to qualify for a tax credit of up to $10,000 to defray training costs for up to one year for new Canadians, is ample evidence of this, a senior Liberal official says.

The Tory Leader has criticized the proposal as a divisive policy that pits one group of Canadians against another, even though his own party introduced a private member's bill that included a wage subsidy for providing newcomers with language training, the official noted.

Mr. McGuinty went on the offensive against Mr. Hudak on Sunday, calling on him to apologize to new Canadians for calling them foreigners. “What this does is hold up for all to see an unfortunate value set on the part of Mr. Hudak that has led him to divide us into various groups,” he said. “I don't think it's the kind of approach we look for in leaders.”

Mr. McGuinty, who is seeking a third straight term, will continue to make the tax program part of the conversation on the hustings as he makes his way through eastern Ontario this week, talking about the economy.

“They set this fire,” another senior Liberal said. True, but the Liberals plan to keep on fanning the flames.

* * * * * *

For Tim Hudak, it’s time to get tough on crime.

Or just about anything else, for that matter, as he looks to convince Ontario voters that his party is a real alternative to the incumbent Liberals.

The first week of the campaign was unexpectedly spent attacking the Liberals for a $10,000 tax credit for a what eventually turned out to be a very specific group of immigrants, and now that his opponents have clarified their program his up-till-now daily attacks on “foreign workers” have likely run their course.

The focus will now likely shift toward forwarding the party’s own agenda, rather than attacking the Liberals over theirs. Although they made several stops last week to highlight portions of their platform – visiting a house with school children on the first day of school to tout the re-introduction of fall report cards, for example – there’s plenty left to talk about.

One area Mr. Hudak may choose to focus on in the coming days is his law-and-order proposals. He’s brought up key points in his stump speech – putting monitoring bracelets on sex offenders and getting convicts to perform community service to “pay back the society they took from” – but the few mentions have been buried by other news.

They’ll also have to keep an eye out for surprises. The campaign was hit with a nasty surprise mid-week when media reported that Lanark, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington candidate Randy Hillier – a property rights activist – had two liens placed against his house by Revenue Canada because of a tax dispute.

* * * * * *

Staying above the fray has so far been easy. But to get noticed, Andrea Horwath may have to wade right in.

As the New Democrats make tracks from one end of the province to the other in the coming week, it's a safe bet Ms. Horwath will continue, as best she can, to do her own thing while leaving the other two parties to spar amongst themselves.

The tactic has worked well for her over the past week: Aside from her frequent references to partisan “squabbling,” and her (so far unanswered) calls on the other two leaders to join her in more debates, she’s managed to stay out of the way as the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives lob barbs at one another.

Even when she has been goaded – in scrums, and in competing press releases – to comment on other parties or their own attacks on her policies, she’s declined, for the most part, to take the bait.

But the challenge for Ms. Horwath will be to put her party out there and command attention in a substantial way – to make herself a known entity and to convince voters not only that her party's substantially different from the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives as all three jostle for the same centrist slice of the electorate, but also that she's a serious and viable alternative.

There are two ways she can do this, and it’s clear which one she prefers. She’d much rather get noticed on her own strengths, her candidates and her platform, and her endlessly repeated mantra of “positive change.” Ms. Horwath’s foray north well before her rivals was an agenda-setting move, and it’s likely when she rolls out her plans for capital spending, health care and environmental initiatives she’ll try to do the same.

But it can be hard to get heard above the noise of two larger political entities.

“I’m a fighter,” Ms. Horwath keeps repeating in her stump speeches, to unfailingly thunderous applause. In the next week or two, she may have to take off the gloves.

Follow on Twitter: @kahowlett

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