Ontario’s four major political party leaders will square off in a televised debate Monday night in Toronto, offering voters a final chance to see them discuss issues head to head before the June 2 election.
The debate, hosted by a group of broadcasters, is scheduled to run from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the TVO Broadcast Centre in the city. Questions to the leaders were created by a group of journalists from these outlets, with input from prospective voters.
Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca and Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner will participate. The debate will be moderated by political journalists Steve Paikin and Althia Raj.
This will be the second and final debate between the four leaders before voters go to the polls. The first debate last week in North Bay focused on issues facing municipalities in Northern Ontario.
The Globe and Mail will have coverage of the debate Monday including a live blog updated by Globe journalists.
Here are four things to watch for:
Blasts from the past
Party leaders didn’t pull any punches in attacking decisions made by previous governments during the daytime North Bay debate and more of the same can be expected Monday. Notably, Mr. Del Duca – in his first election as Liberal Party Leader – faced criticism from all sides about policies the party enacted during 15 years in government from 2003 to 2018.
So far in the campaign, the NDP’s Ms. Horwath has tried to separate her party from that of the Liberals and PCs by calling out their past records. Seeking a second government mandate, the PC’s Mr. Ford has also been quick to link Mr. Del Duca to the previous Liberal government under then-premier Kathleen Wynne and labelled the NDP as the “party of no.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Del Duca said his focus is on promoting the new Liberal team (with only two MPPs elected in 2018 running for re-election) and a new plan rather than looking back. Mr. Del Duca spent most of the first debate talking about his party’s plan rather than attacking the others, but that could change this time around when again forced to defend his party’s record.
As Green Leader, Mr. Schreiner will look to bring the climate discussion to the forefront and press the other leaders on their emission-reduction targets (which don’t go as far or as fast as the Green Party’s proposal).
The Ford factor
Mr. Ford was criticized by the other party leaders for his refusal to take questions from media after the debate in North Bay, as all the others did. Last week, there was also discussion about Mr. Ford’s reliance on notes and if that would be allowed for the televised debate. After a request from the PC Party, the debate organizers decided to allow the leaders to bring a binder on stage on Monday.
Expect this to be brought up by the other party leaders if Mr. Ford again relies on notes. In North Bay, Mr. Del Duca called out the PC Leader’s absence from taking media questions as “arrogant” and argued that his use of a script was “disappointing” and didn’t show an ability to speak candidly with voters about the issues facing Ontario.
Mr. Ford and his four years in office will be under the microscope of the other party leaders on Monday. He will likely focus on the infrastructure projects launched by his government, including hospitals, roads and transit.
Topics up for discussion Monday haven’t been released, but cost of living and affordability will be among issues on the minds of voters watching the debate. With gas prices and inflation rates soaring to record highs, the parties have been pitching their ideas to ease the financial burden on residents.
The provincial gas tax will likely get attention on Monday with the NDP announcing Sunday that it plans to scrap a planned temporary 5.7-per-cent cut to the gas tax, passed in the past legislature (the tax cut would come into effect July 1 and last for six months). Instead, the NDP says if elected they will stop gas price gouging by directing the Ontario Energy Board to regulate the retail price and wholesale markup of gas.
Party platform commitments will also be fair game, with the NDP, Liberals and Greens having all released fully costed platforms in recent weeks (all with varying timelines on balancing the budget) and the PCs are campaigning on a budget they tabled during the last week of their term.
Two weeks into the campaign, the main messages from the parties have been repeated numerous times and there likely will be more of that messaging during Monday’s debate. Mr. Ford and the PCs have campaigned as the party to “get it done” by building highways and hospitals, and attacked the NDP and Liberals as being against infrastructure projects. (The NDP and Liberals are both against the controversial Highway 413, but have voiced support for other highway improvements and transit projects).
Ms. Horwath has been appealing to voters that her party is in the best position to defeat the PCs for those who want change, citing the NDP’s official opposition status in the past legislature with 40 seats. Mr. Del Duca has been focusing his attention on moving forward with a new team of candidates (running two short of a full slate) and targeting the decisions made by Mr. Ford while in government, including Bill 124 which capped wage increases of public-sector workers. Mr. Schreiner is positioning his team as the party with “new solutions to old problems” to address major issues such as climate change and the housing crisis.
With recent polling forecasting a possible majority government for the PCs, it’s expected that the opposition parties will direct a lot of attention to Mr. Ford and issues that arose during his time as premier.
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