Calling Ontario's opposition parties "risky, radical" and "reckless" people who would destroy the provincial economy, Premier Kathleen Wynne rallied the Liberal faithful in her largest fundraising push before an election that could come as soon as this spring.
In a firebrand address at the annual Heritage Dinner on Thursday evening, Ms. Wynne cast herself as a cool-headed centrist battling extremists on both sides.
"If there's an election held this year, no one will need to ask what it's about," she told the $1,500-a-plate gala in a downtown Toronto convention centre. "It will be a choice between my safe hands and their reckless schemes."
The tone was a sharp contrast with her speech at the same event last year, in which she told her party to be "gracious" and "positive" and to work with other parties. This time, after a series of bruising battles with the opposition, Ms. Wynne sounded ready for a fight.
She derided Tim Hudak's Progressive Conservatives for wanting to "declare war on labour" and "roll back the clock" to the Common Sense Revolution of the 1990s.
"[They would] return us to a time when government believed its top priority was to pick fights and create upheaval. We don't need that kind of risky, radical approach," she said.
Ms. Wynne then turned her guns on Andrea Horwath's New Democrats, criticizing them as anti-big-business types who have released very little substantial policy.
They "openly refuse to articulate their plan for governing," Ms. Wynne said. "Can we really afford that sort of risky indecision and lack of practical, coherent thinking? I think not."
The event, which organizers said raised more than $3-million, kicks off the Liberals' annual general meeting this weekend, where the Premier's team will try to whip the party into shape for a possible trip to the polls.
Holding only a minority of seats in the legislature, Ms. Wynne needs the support of at least one other party to pass a budget this spring and avert an election. Mr. Hudak is gunning for a snap vote, while Ms. Horwath says she has not yet made up her mind.
With the Liberals and PCs neck-and-neck in recent polls – and the NDP as strong as it has been in 20 years – the next election is set to be a dogfight.
The past year has been a preview of that battle, with the PCs delaying and disrupting Ms. Wynne's legislative agenda, and both opposition parties taking away seats from the Liberals in by-elections.
Ms. Wynne spent most of her speech test-driving the rhetorical lines around which she will build her campaign. She touted numerous companies, including Cisco, that have set up shop in Ontario with the help of her government. She listed off the spending the Grits have undertaken over the last decade in health care and education. And she touted her vision for a new provincial pension plan as a supplement to CPP. "It is not the time to upset that balance," she said. "We cannot take our eye off the road just as we're starting to pick up speed."