Ontario's two leading political parties have rejected the possibility of forming a coalition, as polls suggest the province is headed toward its first minority government since the mid-1980s, with Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty flatly ruling out any sort of deal with other parties to remain in power.
With just four days before voters go to the polls, the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives are neck and neck, and Andrea Horwath's New Democrats, enjoying levels of support they have not seen since the Bob Rae era, could hold the key to power.
Mr. McGuinty is outright rejecting forming a coaltion government, saying no other party but his has the experience to navigate through uncertain economic times. In an open letter to Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak, Mr. McGuinty says only the Liberals have the experience to stand up for the economy as well as the province’s hospitals and schools.
“That’s why I am running to form a Liberal government - and only a Liberal government,” he says in the letter. “There will be no coalition with either your party or the NDP.”
Mr. McGuinty accuses Mr. Hudak and Ms. Horwath of turning away from promoting their individual platforms this weekend, and instead engaging in trying to “leverage political advantage” through minority government speculation.
In a scrum later Sunday, he went a step further, saying he would not enter into any pact with another party, as the Liberals did during the province's last hung parliament a decade ago.
"No coalition, no accord, no agreement, no entente," he said, using the name of the 1985 deal - dubbed "the accord" at the time - struck between his party and the NDP. In that arrangment, the two parties did not form a formal coalition, which would have entailed divvying up cabinet seats between them. Instead, the NDP propped up a Liberal minority government in exchange for having some of their key policies implemented.
On Sunday, Ms. Horwath stuck to her script, refusing to say whether she would make a deal with the other parties in the event of a hung parliament.
She deflected all questions on the subject, including one about whether she had spoken to the other party leaders about the subject and refused to make the same pledge as the Liberal leader had in his letter.
"Mr. McGuinty is busy talking about himself, and people want to talk about what matters to them," she said following a rally in downtown Toronto Sunday.
She also released a list of five policy priorities - essentially a rehash of her campaign platform - with details on what she would do to implement them within 100 days of winning office.
While the list has been seen as a way of telegraphing to her opponents what they would have to do to earn her support, Ms. Horwath insisted they are pledges that would be carried out if the NDP wins the election outright.
Among the pledges were promises to cut taxes for small business, freeze postsecondary tuition fees, take the HST off some expenditures, cap executive salaries in the public sector and reverse corporate tax cuts within 100 days of the election. It also guaranteed a balanced budget by 2017-2018.
At a noisy rally, Ms. Horwath tried to shore up support for the NDP in Toronto, where it faces several tight two-way battles with the Liberals. She broadened her pitch to emphasize themes of health care and the environment in a bid to differentiate her party from Mr. McGuinty's in the left-leaning ridings of the city's core.
"[People are]tired of a govt that says 'we can't fix healthcare, it's too expensive," she told a crowd of about 200 party faithful. Sporting a broad smile and hugging supporters, she appeared energetic amid the raucous crowd.
Mr. Hudak began speaking more openly about the possibility of a Liberal-NDP coalition Saturday, and continued that message Sunday as he campaigned in Toronto.
He said such a coalition would increase the HST, introduce a carbon tax and raise corporate taxes.
“I'm in this election to win, not listen to the NDP,” he said. “Those other two parties? We know their history and we just can't afford it."
In the absence of a coalition or confidence-and-supply agreement, a minority government would have to rule from issue-to-issue as was seen in Ottawa prior to Prime Minister Stephen Harper winning a majority in May.