Analysis: Testy debate tone sets stage for contentious Ontario election campaign


Just days before the official kickoff of one of the most important Ontario elections in decades, voters witnessed just how testy this upcoming campaign can be as the three main party leaders squared off in the first televised debate.

The debate pitted seasoned political leaders Premier Kathleen Wynne and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath against newly minted PC Leader Doug Ford, the former Toronto city councillor who finds himself leading in the polls with a month to go until Ontarians cast their votes. By all indications, this is his election to lose.

Throughout the debate, Ford criticized Premier Wynne by driving home his key talking points about the Liberals’ mismanagement of the province’s finances, and finding cost-cut efficiencies without laying anyone off in the public sector. Just how he will do that is yet to be determined, as the PCs have not released a fully-costed platform.

Andrea Horwath, who finds her party trying to outflank the Liberals on the left, painted herself as a sensible alternative to Wynne or Ford. Throughout the debate, as Wynne and Ford trained their attacks on one another, Horwath used each opportunity to drive this point home. Despite being leader of the NDP for nine years, she has struggled to raise her public profile and sway voters who traditionally vote Liberal to support her party.

As the incumbent, Wynne was forced to deflect attacks from both left and right, defending her record and promoting her plan to boost government spending programs. The Premier highlighted the province’s strong job growth and low unemployment rate as one of the reasons she should be elected another term.  

After 15 years of Liberal rule, there is general agreement that Ontario is in a mood for change. But with Wynne’s dwindling approval ratings, Ford’s disapproval numbers, and Horwath’s smaller public profile, just what that change will look like remains unclear. While a PC government is the most likely outcome, recent polls suggest that nearly half of Ontario voters are still undecided. This will be a hard-fought race to the end, and if recent global events such as Brexit and the election of President Trump has taught us, anything can happen.

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