TORONTO - Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne was forced to shift from touting her campaign policies to defending her party's vetting process on Tuesday, after the opposition parties exposed what they called "sexist" social media posts by three Liberal candidates.
Questions about the posts — which were pointed out to the media by either the Progressive Conservatives or the NDP — dominated the Liberal leader's media availability after she spoke to a business audience in Toronto.
Wynne, who only knew of two "inappropriate" posts, said she would do all she could to ensure her party put up candidates worthy of public office.
"As the first female premier (in Ontario) I've spent my life dealing with, from time to time, inappropriateness in society," Wynne said.
"I will do everything in my power to make sure that all of our candidates and all of our campaigners are respectful of each other and of everyone in our society."
The Tories were the first to dig up a questionable Facebook post by a Liberal candidate over the weekend.
The January post by Ottawa-area candidate Jack Uppal joked about the differences between men and women and included lines about women being unable to find solutions to problems.
Wynne said on Sunday that she had accepted Uppal's apology and that he had taken the remarks down.
The premier had a similar response Monday to questions about a post by Niagara West-Glanbrook candidate David Mossey, which was also highlighted by the Tories.
The post was from March last year and showed two photographs of women's bikini-clad behinds with the words "no squats" and "squats" above them, in reference to the exercise move.
Wynne said Mossey has acknowledged that it was an inappropriate picture, taken down the post and apologized.
The premier was forced to confront the issue yet again on Tuesday when she was questioned about a Twitter post by London-area candidate Nick Steinburg — this time pointed out by the NDP — in which he made a reference to "mackin" or suggestively flirting with ladies.
While Wynne said she hadn't seen the post, she promised that "corrective action" will be taken against any comments that deserve it.
"If there are inappropriate comments they need to be dealt with no matter what party the person is from," Wynne said.
"I think it's a bit of a cautionary note for everyone, not just for political candidates...that what you say, what you put out in the social media universe hangs out there for a very long time and you need to make sure that you're as respectful to people on social media as you would be face to face."
All three candidates are still running for office amid calls from the opposition parties for Wynne to fire them.
NDP party officials also suggested that Steinburg's tweet in particular was "making light of sexually harassing ladies" and showed that the Liberals were "lowering their standards."
NDP leader Andrea Horwath added that the issues Wynne was facing with her candidates was something the Liberals will have to "figure out themselves."
"I would hope that people keep a respectful attitude when we talk about each other as human beings," she said.
Meanwhile, the Liberal party said Steinburg's tweet had nothing to do with sexual harassment and suggested the opposition parties were simply trying to create a distraction from policy being debated on the campaign trail.
"The NDP wants to change the channel from the fact that they rejected our progressive budget without having any plan of their own," said Liberal campaign spokeswoman Rebecca MacKenzie.
"The PCs want to change the channel too — from all the criticism over their (job) cuts."
Wynne certainly tried to keep the focus on Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak's plan to cut 100,000 public sector jobs as she pitched her own plan for the province to a business audience at the Bloomberg Canada Economic Summit earlier on Tuesday.
"We have a path to balance," she said of her government's plan to slay Ontario's $12.5-billion deficit by 2017-2018.
"Unlike what Tim Hudak is going to do, we are not going to do that by cutting and slashing the social fabric of the province," Wynne said.
"It's very clear, the differences between what Tim Hudak is proposing and what we have laid out in our plan."
Hudak, who has promised to eliminate the deficit a year earlier than the Liberals if his party is elected, announced Tuesday his party would cut personal income taxes after the budget is balanced.
The Tories said they would phase in a 10 per cent cut over four years — starting in their second mandate — but could do it sooner if they have more money.
It's part of their plan to create a million private sector jobs in Ontario over eight years. The plan also includes cutting corporate taxes by 30 per cent, ending subsidies for green energy and opening up apprenticeships to more young people.
Meanwhile, the NDP spent Tuesday slamming the Liberals over auto insurance rates, saying Wynne's government has sided with insurance companies in recent years.
"The Liberals are more interested in keeping the insurance companies happy than they are in bringing down rates for drivers," Horwath said while campaigning in Toronto's east end.
"People are not seeing a significant reduction in their auto insurance rates. Some people are seeing their rates go up."
Horwath said the Liberals pledged in the 2013 budget to cut rates by 15 per cent but that hasn't happened because they didn't have the political will to follow through.
An NDP government would be serious about seeing rates come down by an "achievable" 15 per cent, she said, although it wasn't immediately clear how the New Democrats would reach that target.
Ontario heads to the polls on June 12.
— with files from Maria Babbage and Colin Perkel.
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An Uphill Climb?
Kathleen Wynne is hoping Ontario voters can look past these five scandals when they cast their ballots on June 12. <em> (Information courtesy of The Canadian Press)</em>
Ontario's publicly funded air ambulance service has been under fire for almost two years over sky-high salaries, financial irregularities and corruption allegations. A legislative committee has been probing the service's complex structures and pay scales in detail, and opposition parties have been alleging wrongdoing with nearly every revelation. The auditor general has criticized the governing Liberals for failing to oversee Ornge, despite giving it $730 million over five years and allowing it to borrow another $300 million. The Liberals insist Ornge went rogue with a web of for-profit companies and questionable business deals, as well as exorbitant salaries and lavish expenses.
Cancelled Gas Plants
Scandal has swirled around the government's decision to cancel the construction of two Toronto-area gas plants ahead of the 2011 election, in which the government then led by Dalton McGuinty was reduced to minority status. The cancellation costs have now been pegged at $1.1 billion, but opposition parties have accused the Liberals of actively trying to cover up that figure. Ontario's privacy commissioner has concluded that staff working for McGuinty and a former energy minister broke the law by deleting emails pertaining to the project. Ontario Provincial Police are also investigating the document deletions, seizing government computers at both Queen's Park and beyond.
The provincial agency was given a $1-billion budget to develop electronic health records, but wound up building themselves a bad reputation. A lot of the eHealth money went for untendered contracts given to highly paid consultants who then billed taxpayers for additional expenses in a scandal that cost former health minister David Caplan his job. In 2009, the auditor general said the agency had very little progress to show for its efforts, and opposition parties have alleged further financial mismanagement since then.
The government has taken heat for not immediately acting when it learned a $1.4-billion infrastructure project didn't live up to safety standards. The Liberals were told that questionable materials were being used on the support beams on Windsor's Herb Gray Parkway in December 2012, but didn't halt the project until July. More than 500 support beams are being replaced by the project overseer at no cost to the tax payers, but the NDP has accused the Wynne government of trying to cover up the affair and only backing down when threatened with media exposure.
Premier Kathleen Wynne has hailed the 2015 games as a cause for celebration, but opposition parties call it just another scandal. The $1.4-billion budget for the games does not include some key expenses, like the $700 million athletes' village. The government has also come under fire for $7 million worth of bonuses paid out to 64 executives.
UP NEXT: The Many Faces Of Kathleen Wynne
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynn smiles as she arrives at the Toronto Blue Jays game against the New York Yankees during home opener AL baseball action in Toronto on Friday, April 4, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, left, and Glen Murray, Minister of Infrastructure, ride the subway while en route to Wynne's speech at the Toronto Region Board of Trade in Toronto Monday, April 14, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne attends question period at Queen's Park in Toronto on Tuesday, April 1, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is shown outside her office at Queen's Park in Toronto on Thursday, March 27, 2014. Wynne has distanced herself from her predecessor, former premier Dalton McGuinty, following police allegations one of his staffers may have committed breach of trust. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne speaks to supporters and her caucus during the party's annual general meeting in Toronto on Saturday, March 22, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette