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.