TORONTO - Jobs and taxes have dominated the Ontario pre-election debate, with the opposition leaders coming down hard on Premier Dalton McGuinty and New Democrat Andrea Horwath staying true to her image as a scrappy fighter from Hamilton.
Horwath and Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak wasted no time attacking McGuinty for what they say is a terrible record.
Horwath interjected often, regularly interrupting the two leaders to get her point across or correct the record when the others attacked her party.
Hudak says the Liberals have only created low-wage jobs and graduating students can't find work, with McGuinty contesting that the province's economy is in fact faring well.
And he says tonight's, coming so late in the campaign, could have "a big influence."
SUBSCRIBE AND FOLLOW Politics
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements. Learn more
Horwath says the Liberal plan hasn't worked, and is leaving students jobless and with "a mountain of debt."
The 90-minute faceoff is the only chance voters get during the election to see the leaders of the three main political parties at the same time.
"I'm not saying that it's all sunshine and apple pie," said McGuinty, whose calm and steady manner made him appear muted in comparison to the impassioned Horwath and Hudak.
The Liberals have a jobs plan largely focused around green energy that's working, McGuinty said, adding that it's the Tories who would kill thousand of jobs by scrapping a contract with Korean giant Samsung.
Hudak dismissed the green jobs as "nothing but a shell game" which is simply driving up electricity bills."
"Your jobs plan has been a failure," Hudak said.
Horwath, who like Hudak spoke often about the people she has met and the places she's visited during the campaign, told McGuinty that stats about job creation meant nothing to the people of Ontario who "feel like you have ignored them for the last eight years."
"During that recession what you decided to do was hit people with an unfair tax that made things harder," she said.
McGuinty defended his tax record, after bringing in both a health tax and the HST despite promising no new taxes, saying he would not raise taxes this time around and Hudak should "stop saying" that he would.
"With all due respect, sir, nobody believes you anymore," Hudak replied.
The debate is the first one for rookies Horwath and Hudak, and is particularly important for the two opposition leaders, since it's their chance to introduce themselves to many voters just tuning in.
The latest polls suggest the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives are in a virtual dead heat, creating the potential for a minority government with the NDP playing king maker.
Hudak and Horwath already faced off last week, in a northern issues debate which McGuinty declined to participate in.
Horwath couldn't resist taking a shot at McGuinty over missing the debate, offering the premier a geography lesson when speaking about a man she met in Dubreuilville.
"Don't know if you know where Dubreuilville is," she said. "It's near Wawa."