Polls opened Thursday morning in a charged Ontario election race, as the three leaders make a full-court press on the final day of the campaign, piling on rallies and town halls across the province.
Ontarians face a stark choice between Liberal Kathleen Wynne’s big-spending stimulus plan, Progressive Conservative Tim Hudak’s small-government agenda and New Democrat Andrea Horwath’s populist promises of pocketbook relief.
Trying to put a fresh face on a party that’s been in office for more than a decade, Ms. Wynne crafted an ambitious, leftist platform including a new provincial pension plan, $29-billion for new transit lines and highways, and more funding for social programs. She is banking such hefty policies will allow her Liberals to overcome the baggage of the billion-dollar cancellation of two gas-fired power plants.
She fought hard to take votes away from the New Democrats and polarize the election between herself and Mr. Hudak.
On Wednesday, she visited all five NDP ridings in Toronto – plus the Tories’ lone seat in Canada’s largest city – and made a blunt plea for the left to rally behind her.
“To those who want to stop Tim Hudak’s cuts … I say welcome. Welcome one and all,” Ms. Wynne, fighting her first election as leader, said at an elementary school in the east-end riding of Toronto-Danforth. “Preserve the Ontario that we know and love.”
Mr. Hudak made a final push in swing seats – in Mississauga, Waterloo and Niagara Falls – before an evening rally in Jarvis, Ont., a rural village in safe Tory territory. He hammered home his central message that only slaying the deficit by slashing the bureaucracy will give businesses confidence to set up shop in the province.
“We’ll balance the budget because there is no compassion in borrowing from our children to finance a padded layer of middle management that we can’t afford today,” he said in Mississauga. “That’s the kind of change we will bring.”
The PC Leader ran a campaign as far right as Ms. Wynne’s was left, promising to eliminate 100,000 public sector jobs, end government grants for business and cut corporate taxes.
He took fire from the other parties over the proposed job cuts, and in recent days worked to soften his image. Making jokes with supporters, high-fiving children and sharing personal stories have been his modus operandi.
“I’m sticking with my campaign of hope and jobs because I know that hope is going to trump fear come Thursday night,” Mr. Hudak said.
Ms. Horwath, for her part, campaigned on a series of pocketbook promises, including electricity rebates and various new tax credits. Her strategy was to attract disaffected Liberals angry about the gas plants. But she drew the ire of many NDP stalwarts who believed she had abandoned her party’s focus on big-picture policy.
“Our plan is one that respects your tax dollars and invests those tax dollars in your priorities. … Making sure that your bills are more affordable; that you can afford the cost of everyday life,” she said at a rally in Scarborough. “We’re going to get the HST off of your hydro bills. We’re going to make sure that your auto insurance rates are coming down.”
She set the most hectic pace of the three on the final day, cramming in eight whistlestop rallies in Greater Toronto and Eastern Ontario, largely in ridings the NDP has little hope of winning.