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Ontario Premier Doug Ford walks towards Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell's office at Queen's Park in Toronto, Tuesday, May 3, 2022. Ford is set to meet with Lt.-Gov. Dowdeswell to officially start the provincial election period.Frank Gunn/CP

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says the provincial election campaign is a choice between his Progressive Conservative Party’s plans for prosperity and opposition parties he charges have “destroyed” the province. His NDP and Liberal challengers say it’s about the need to shore up health care and protect the environment after what they call Mr. Ford’s failures over the past four years.

The campaign, already informally under way for months, is now to begin in earnest after Mr. Ford asked Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell to dissolve the legislature on Tuesday afternoon. Voters go to the polls on June 2. The formal issuing of the writs is set for Wednesday.

While politicians will hit the campaign trail in the shadow of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, the parties have largely focused on a range of other issues, including widespread angst about runaway real estate prices and galloping inflation that has prompted an array of promises about affordable housing and reducing costs.

“This election is about one simple thing,” Mr. Ford told reporters at Queen’s Park, before heading into his meeting with the Lieutenant Governor. “Either the people of this province are going to choose to go backwards, and choose another way of moving this province forward as they destroyed the province, the previous governments, or they’re going to choose prosperity, getting things built.”

Mr. Ford’s PCs enter the race as front-runners according to most polls as they seek a second term. His campaign, which launches with a rally at a conference centre on Wednesday night in his political home base of Etobicoke, is expected to focus on the party’s pledges to expand hospitals across the province and build new highways in the Greater Toronto Area, including the multibillion-dollar Highway 413 that both opposition parties have vowed to scrap for environmental reasons.

He will start the day in Brampton, one of several key battlegrounds in the 905 belt – named for the area code – that surrounds Toronto.

Mr. Ford faces NDP Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath, in her fourth election as party chief. She has already unveiled a platform that includes publicly funded mental-health care, including therapy and counselling, as well as dental care and pharmacare and a pledge to hire 30,000 more nurses.

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca, transportation minister under former premier Kathleen Wynne, has faced the tough task of rebuilding a party nearly wiped out in the 2018 election and left with just seven seats in the 124-seat legislature. Both the PCs and the NDP have aired attack ads aimed at him. A series of recent polls have suggested his party is in second place, ahead of the NDP.

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner, who held his party’s only seat in the legislature at dissolution, is scheduled to launch his campaign on Wednesday with a convoy of electric vehicles that will head to a series of events with candidates in Toronto ridings, as well an evening rally in his hometown of Guelph.

Even as COVID-19 continues to spread in the province and its hospitals remain strained, the campaigns have so far avoided focusing on the government’s handling of the pandemic, although all parties say they would plug the gaps in the health care system that the pandemic has revealed.

Over the past two years, Ontario’s hospitals were repeatedly pushed to the brink, prompting the PC government to promise billions in spending over the next decade expanding them. Both the Liberals and the NDP say more is needed, such as scrapping legislation that limits public-sector pay increases, including those for nurses and other health care workers, to 1 per cent a year.

The governing PCs have committed to expanding and improving the ailing long-term care system, where the pandemic caused more than 4,300 deaths out of Ontario’s total of nearly 13,000. But the Liberals and NDP have both vowed to end the practice of allowing for-profit nursing homes.

Ms. Horwath was in the central Toronto riding of Don Valley East on Tuesday, telling reporters her party’s campaign would focus on improving health care and home care for seniors, as well as striving to bring down the cost of buying a home. To address the housing affordability crisis, the party pledges to reinstate rent control and provide loans to assist first-time buyers with a down payment.

“You can have a party that gives you hope again,” she said.

Ms. Horwath will officially kick off the election campaign Wednesday morning at Queen’s Park before visiting three GTA ridings to meet with campaign volunteers.

Mr. Del Duca is set to start the campaign’s first official day in Etobicoke, where he will unveil another platform plank. On Tuesday, Mr. Del Duca was in Newmarket, north of Toronto. He released an environmental plan he says would cut pollution in half by tightening the rules the PC government has imposed on large emitters of greenhouse gases. And the Liberal Leader repeated his promise, made Monday, to drop all transit fares across the province to just $1 temporarily.

He pointed to Mr. Ford’s record on the environment, which has included easing protections for endangered species, weakening the powers of conservation authorities, waging an unsuccessful court battle against the federal government’s carbon pricing system and cancelling green energy contracts. Mr. Del Duca called building Highway 413, which would go through parts of the protected Greenbelt, “reckless,” warning it would cost more than $10-billion. He also accused Ford’s PCs of not believing in climate science.

Ivana Yelich, a spokesperson for Mr. Ford, said Mr. Del Duca was making “baseless claims.” She cited a series of recent announcements, including one on Monday at the Stellantis plant in Windsor, of hundreds of millions in federal and provincial cash to attract major automakers to build electric cars and the batteries that power them in the province. The government is also giving $500-million in aid for ArcelorMittal Dofasco in Hamilton to slash carbon emissions at its steel plant.

With a report from Dustin Cook

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