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Pity the voters of Ontario. They are to cast their ballots in a provincial election on June 7. Campaigning is to begin officially on Wednesday. The options before them are abysmal.

Option One is to go with the devil they know and re-elect the Liberals under Kathleen Wynne. But her smug gang has been governing since 2003, piling up a mountain of debt and leaving a trail of spending scandals. They richly deserve to get the hook.

Option Two is to change it up and and replace them with Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives. But Mr. Ford is an ill-informed blowhard who serves up recycled slogans from his brother Rob Ford’s notorious time as mayor of Toronto. Electing him would be inviting the bull into the china shop.

Option Three is to bypass the two main parties and go with Andrea Horwath’s NDP. Voters tried it once before in Ontario when they elected Bob Rae as premier. But Ms. Horwath is on her third rodeo as NDP leader and still fails to impress. Her standard tax-and-spend program would worsen the hot mess the Liberals created.

No wonder so many Ontarians are shaking their heads in confusion and dismay. What on earth is a responsible voter to do?

The first debate among the party leaders did not make the choice any easier. The three sparred on Monday evening in a jazzed-up session put on by CityNews for viewers with a short attention span.

Ms. Wynne accused Mr. Ford of planning to cut, cut, cut. What she didn’t say is that her party’s spendthrift ways have made some kind of retrenchment inevitable. The Liberals ran deficits for years and managed to double the provincial debt before finally bringing the budget oh-so-briefly into balance, only to plunge back into the red with a spate of vote-buying pre-election spending this year. Report after report by provincial watchdogs have called them out on their dubious accounting.

Mr. Ford accused Ms. Wynne of planning to spend, spend, spend. What he didn’t say is how he would rein in provincial spending himself. The guy who last led the PCs into a campaign, Tim Hudak, blew the 2014 election by vowing to cut 100,000 public-sector jobs. So Mr. Ford has clammed up about his own plan, if in fact he has one. He would save money through “efficiencies,” a favourite catchword from the Ford years at Toronto City Hall. Oh, and he would fire the “six-million-dollar man,” the well-paid head of a hydro utility. That should do it.

Ms. Horwath was reduced to nipping at the heels of the other two or striking an unlikely pose as the moderate alternative to her quarreling rivals. She even resorted to accusing Ms. Wynne of plotting to privatize the police.

It was all pretty discouraging. How did Ontario get to this sad state? Canada’s most populous province used to raise an eyebrow at the colourful politics of British Columbia or Quebec. Then the Rob Ford show came to Toronto. Then the Progressive Conservatives had a headline-grabbing leadership crisis over allegations of sexual misconduct. Now Rob Ford’s brother is poised to become premier.

Ontario voters can no longer choose between reasonably sensible parties of centre-left and centre-right. Neither is on offer in this election. Instead, they must choose between a right-wing populist in the mould of Donald Trump and a left-wing Liberal who has out-NDPed the NDP, leaving the NDP itself to carve out territory even farther to the left. The political centre has vanished like a puddle in the sun.

Mr. Ford wants to blow up the newish, updated sex-education curriculum. He wants to meddle with the independence of universities by tying their funding to free-speech guarantees. Ms. Wynne cooked up a scheme to lower everyone’s power rates by loading the cost onto future taxpayers, a classic example of how governments kick the can down the road. Ms. Horwath would cancel standardized testing, a sop to teachers’ unions and a blow to accountability in the schools.

Voters have four weeks to decide who among these three is fit to govern Ontario. Good luck with that.

Ontario's three main party leaders squared off Monday in the first debate before June’s provincial election. Andrea Horwath, Kathleen Wynne and Doug Ford were asked after the debate how they plan to combat criticisms they face.

The Canadian Press

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