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From left to right: Doug Ford, Kathleen Wynne and Andrea Horwath take part in the Ontario leaders' debate in Toronto on Monday.

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Doug Ford brought his promise of lower taxes and curbing spending to the province in his first debate as the Leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives, while Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne warned his promise of cuts would hurt regular people.

New Democrat Andrea Horwath steered clear of both and offered a future without cuts or the long-governing Liberals.

While Monday’s debate was supposed to be about Toronto and was held beside the city’s bustling Yonge-Dundas Square, the leaders of Ontario’s three main political parties traded shots in a sometimes chaotic contest with few new promises for voters. The campaign for the June 7 election will officially start Wednesday.

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Finding himself in the crosshairs of Ms. Wynne and Ms. Horwath, Mr. Ford was unapologetic about his plan to cut $6-billion in spending, vowing that his move would “respect the great taxpayers of Ontario” and lead to no layoffs. Ms. Wynne and Ms. Horwath warned that thousands of teachers and nurses would be fired.

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“There’s a very stark contrast that people are going to see in this election. It’s a contrast between a care plan and a cut plan,” said Ms. Wynne, as she challenged the Tory Leader standing to her right. “It is not possible to cut $6-billion out of services and not hurt people.”

Ontario is in deficit, according to a budget tabled this spring by the Liberal government, which has been in power for nearly 15 years. The government has said it will take several years to get out of deficit. Mr. Ford has vowed to cut the deficit, but said he won’t be able to return the province to balance in his first year.

“I love the nurses, I love the teachers, I’m going to support them,” Mr. Ford said.

“And you’re going to cut their jobs,” Ms. Wynne added.

While Mr. Ford and Ms. Wynne clashed repeatedly, Ms. Horwath stood back and told the audience: “You don’t have to choose between bad and worse.”

The leaders of Ontario's three main political parties, Kathleen Wynne, Doug Ford and Andrea Horwarth, debated transit at a televised debate Monday night ahead of the provincial election.

When pressed on what he would cut as premier, Mr. Ford would only say that he would find “efficiencies” in government. He did say that he would get rid of the chief executive of the electrical transmission company Hydro One, which was partly privatized by Ms. Wynne’s government.

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When asked, Mr. Ford told the NDP Leader that he wouldn’t close any hospitals. “That’s not my vocabulary,” he said of cuts. “I believe in driving efficiencies … I believe there is a better way to be delivering services, a more efficient way.”

Ms. Horwath shot back: “What you call efficiencies is cuts.”

In a heated exchange, Ms. Wynne asked the Tory Leader which province has the lowest per capita spending in Canada. “Not Ontario,” he said, moments before Ms. Wynne named the province. “You obviously don’t understand numbers,” he said to Ms. Wynne. When she responded that he didn’t, he angrily answered: “I don’t understand? No, you don’t understand.”

Mr. Ford, the 53-year-old former Toronto councillor, has been the leader of the official opposition since March, after Patrick Brown’s sudden resignation.

Mr. Ford sometimes seemed to struggle to go toe to toe with the other two leaders on issues of policy, according to Henry Jacek, a political science professor at McMaster University. “He was at the biggest disadvantage because he’s never been in a provincial debate before. His message wasn’t very deep so he went back on some of his phrases,” Prof. Jacek said.

He said Ms. Horwath stood out in the debate. “It’s a time for spring cleaning and she offered a positive message.”

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