On Monday, May 5, 2018, the first of three televised debates took place between leaders of the major Ontario political parties.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford, and New Democratic Party leader Andrea Horwath met in Toronto at 6 pm to answer questions both from the audience and each other.
CityTV host Cynthia Mulligan served as moderator, and the six question askers in the audience were all individuals who had previously been profiled by the network. Question’s ranged from issues related to police carding of minorities, the Ontario housing market, public transit,while each leader also would be given the chance to ask a candidate of their choice one question.
Daily Hive has the break down of each candidate’s remarks and position during the debate.
The New Democratic Party leader was randomly selected to go first in the opening remarks. She was clear from the outset that she wanted to paint herself as an alternative to the establishment candidates.
“You can have a premier that puts the people at the heart of every single decision she makes,” she said to categorize her leadership style.
She made a point of taking digs at Ford for his unspecified cuts (this became a theme throughout the evening), as well as Wynne with the current state of hydro prices and the long wait times in the healthcare system.
Throughout the debate she advocated for a progressive policy towards opioid addiction, a less controlled cannabis regime, and the standardization of police training across the province, including in conflict de-escalation.
Horwath easily came across as the most optimistic of the candidates. She focused on delivering the message of her plans to increase social services across the province, including the NDP’s universal pharmacare plan.
She was also pointed in her criticism of both candidates, often redirecting the questions when Ford and Wynne broke into bickering.
“I think the question was about affordable housing for young people,” she said at one point. “Let’s remember what we’re talking about.”
Horwath failed to assert herself during the open debate periods. While Ford and Wynne bickered and drew attention she would attempt to throw shade at their discussions without actually adding anything of her own.
At one point Horwath tried to direct an attack at Ford over his unnamed cuts. Wynne shut her down without taking her eyes off the PC candidate. Horwath needed desperately to pull the spotlight to her party’s platform but struggled to draw attention.
She was mostly ignored by Ford and her cheery eyed optimism didn’t do much to dissuade his claims that the NDP was engaging in “magical thinking,” with vague plans to buy back Hydro One.
The sitting premier came out strong, but stoic. Her administration’s record, for good or for ill, was on full display and she spent a lot of time defending the choices made during her tenure.
She bragged of the provinces economic growth and low unemployment rate while promising to continue work on improving health services, mental health support, and elder care.
“We have built 800 schools, 24 new hospitals, there is transit being built all around the province, roads and bridges. The economy is growing faster than other parts of the country, faster than the United States, and the unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in 20 years,” she said in her opening remarks. “We need to continue, and the next thing that we need to do is put more care in place for people.”
Wynne also found space to rebuff both her opponents’ accusations about hydro costs, talking instead about her government’s investment in electrical infrastructure.
She has a deep and entrenched knowledge of her government’s policy. It translated well and she is clearly the most experienced in statecraft.
Wynne was neither charismatic or polarizing, but she did manage to find adequate time to lay out her defence of the criticisms that has plagued her since taking office. Ford and Horwath attacked rising Hydro costs, and the “mismanagement” of the province’s finances – likely alluding to the recent Auditor General’s report on deficit figures.
She also took some heavy jabs against Ford’s promises of finding money in the province, as well as her experience in dealing with Rob Ford’s Toronto government. But she remained unrelenting in her pressure for Ford to name where he was planning to make cuts.
“Why don’t you have the guts to tell people what your cuts are going to look like? What is in store for the people of Ontario?” she asked the candidate.
“You have to look at the evidence, you have to look at what the experts say, you can’t just have a slogan that then becomes a policy. That’s not how it works.”
Wynne held her own during the debate but failed to land a solid blow against Ford for his recent Greenbelt tape, or to completely shut down Horwath’s persistent criticisms of her regime.
She slipped easily into personal attacks against Ford. However, many of her most scathing points were lost among the cross noise as the candidates talked over one another.
Wynne was quickly (and often) put on the defensive by both Ford and Horwath. She was largely unable to keep pressure on the other candidates even when she seemed to have an advantage.
The least experienced debater on the panel, Ford is far enough ahead in the polls that the election is his to lose. He was measured, but prodded and attacked lightly.
His demeanour was respectful, and he didn’t lose his cool at any of the attacks made against him.
He opened by criticizing liberal mismanagement, specifically of the compensation packages made available to Ontario Hydro executives.
“We have seen this Liberal government make sure that they have taken care of their Liberal insider friends, and Liberal insiders, lobbyists. But we can tell you one thing my friends, we will make sure we bring government that respects the taxpayers.”
He made promises of change and to increase what he called “efficiencies.” This was part of his crafted platform of fiscal responsibility and government transparency. He remained vague about his policies and typically redirected these questions back to Wynne and her record of “mismanagement.”
“You know me, I’m for the little guy,” became his mantra throughout the debate.
Ford managed to avoid answering the specifics on where he will be making cuts, while still staying on the offensive. Any question directed to him about where the money for his program would be coming from was typically redirected back at the Liberals, or ignored when it came from the NDP.
Any mention of the recently leaked tape of him promising to open the Greenbelt to development was shifted back to Wynne his assertion that her government had opened the same space up to 17 different development projects.
His discomfort during the debate was clear, but he held his own, and came out unscathed.
Throughout the discussion Ford came off as robotic and stagnant. His answers to the first few questions were short, and he failed to really come alive during the course of the questioning.
Details on his specific policies were altogether weak, though he did manage to use a lot of time announcing $5 billion in additional transit funding. The announcement was a clever dodge of the actual question on current transit management, but was likely going to be his response no matter what was asked – candidates were told the topics beforehand.
Ford failed to deliver any major or impactful blows against his opponents. His chosen question to Wynne – “when did you lose your way? – was meant to be a cutting remark but instead read flat and didn’t elicit a meaningful response from Wynne, who pivoted to bring the conversation back to policy.
The clear winner of the debate was Ford, though all three candidates generally failed to galvanize their positions in a way that could swing undecided voters. His lead in the polls against a divided left makes his position unique. He made it through without any major gaffs.
The NDP performed admirably though probably not as strong as supporters would of liked. Horwath will likely see a bump in the polls from her performance, though this will hurt the Liberals more than the PCs.
Wynne is in trouble. She is considered to be the least popular premier in Canada and has a long way to go in the next four weeks if she wants to hold onto her office. Her performance was good, but she will need to shine like never before in the coming debates if it’s to make a difference.