Kathleen Wynne is going on the offensive in the Ontario election's final week, stepping up her attacks on Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak as she seeks to polarize the race.
Her aggressive strategy, on full display Thursday in a meeting with The Globe and Mail's editorial board, is designed to tell centrist and leftist voters that the only way to avoid a hard-right government is to rally to her Liberals.
"It's becoming clearer that there's really a stark choice between the two likely parties to form government," she said just thirty seconds into her interview at the Globe. "What Tim Hudak is proposing is making a lot of people anxious… it's much less in keeping with the way Ontario has grown, the way Ontario has functioned and is pretty reckless at this moment."
Ms. Wynne and Mr. Hudak are already presenting sharply contrasting platforms. Hers promises a new Ontario Retirement Pension Plan and more spending on social programs; Mr. Hudak's involves hefty tax cuts and slashing 100,000 jobs from the public sector to balance the budget. And Ms. Wynne has sharpened her rhetoric in recent days.
This tack is partly designed to peel away NDP supporters by presenting herself as the only person who can stop the PCs. It is also meant to fire up her base and make sure they come to the polls.
An online panel by Innovative Research Group shows the reason for this. While Mr. Hudak tests well among PC voters, he does very poorly among supporters of the other two parties – meaning there is literally no downside for Ms. Wynne in attacking him.
And with all parties expecting low turnout, motivating supporters will be key to victory.
"In the last few days of an election that is going to be a close election -- there's no doubt about that – I need to make it clear to people what's at stake," she told the Globe. "That is what we're going to do."
Ms. Wynne spent much of the meeting trying to prove that, despite her big-spending budget, she can still balance the books in three years.
It will be a tall order: when Ms. Wynne took office early last year, the civil service told her that the already-tough austerity measures implemented by her predecessor, Dalton McGuinty, were still not enough. And that was before she poured more money into social programs and transit, as her budget promises.
Pressed on what more she will do to hit her target, Ms. Wynne pointed to her plants to raise extra revenue, partly by jacking up taxes on people making over $150,000 and by renting out or selling government buildings.
"We do have a revenue issue and we've got to deal with that," Ms. Wynne said. "And we didn't have a process in place to…sweat the assets, you know, to make sure we get the most out of the assets."
She insisted that she is also ready to hold the line on pay increases for public sector unions. This may be difficult, however, after an election in which many unions, from nurses to police officers, are rallying to her side and are likely to feel she owes them in the event of a victory.
Politically, however, driving down the deficit is of less importance to the Grits right now than pumping up left-of-centre voters.
Nowhere was this more apparent than in an address to the Canadian Club at a Toronto hotel earlier Thursday. Ms. Wynne was most animated when slagging the Tories.
"We are holding a referendum on the future of Ontario's economy," she thundered. "It's a choice between our plan to protect the economic recovery – and Tim Hudak's plan to fire people and slash health, education and more."
Ontario voters head to the polls June 12.