06/03/2014 06:27 EDT | Updated 08/03/2014 05:59 EDT

Ontario election debate: Supporters rally outside studio

Supporters of all three major provincial parties are rallying outside the CBC building in downtown Toronto, where their leaders are squaring off in a 90-minute debate starting at 6:30 p.m. ET.

A youthful crowd of Liberal backers, decked out in red shirts and toting election signs, chanted "four more years." In a line directly across from them, a throng of blue-clad Progressive Conservatives yelled "Dalton, Dalton" — an apparent attempt to link Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne to her predecessor, Dalton McGuinty, and the scandals that emerged under his premiership.

Next to them, a group of NDP supporters danced to the rhythms of a Brazilian percussion band.

Wynne, PC Leader Tim Hudak and NDP chief Andrea Horwath are going at one another in CBC Studio 40 in a debate hosted by TVO's Steve Paikin.

The debate format has six main questions — drawn from more than a thousand submitted by the public — put to the party leaders. They are addressing the questions in a mix of one-on-one interchanges and three-way free-for-alls, on a spartan but lofty set.

Following the debate, party leaders will have a chance to scrum with reporters outside the TV studio.

It is Wynne's first leaders' debate, while Hudak and Horwath previously knocked heads during the 2011 election.

While the current campaign has seen the front-runners seesaw for the lead in polls over the last four weeks, there's no guarantee that a strong debate performance will catapult any one party to a clear advantage come election day.

And even if one of the party leaders emerges as a consensus winner, there's no guarantee that will translate into votes. Horwath was seen as having the momentum in a snap post-debate poll in 2011. It wasn't enough to propel her party past third place in the legislature, however.

Tonight's debate

The leaders' debate, hosted by journalist Steve Paikin, begins at 6:30 p.m. ET and runs until 8 p.m. ET.