"Hudak wins debate."
Those were the headlines greeting voters Wednesday, the morning after the leaders' debate, on the cover of two free daily newspapers, the Toronto edition of Metro and 24 Hours Toronto.
Only they weren't headlines at all. They were paid advertisements from the Ontario Progressive Conservatives and NDP.
While paying for "wraparounds" — ad features that appear on the front and back of a newspaper — isn't new for political parties, commuters glancing at stands may not have seen the fine print identifying the wraps as paid advertising.
Let's take a closer look at both.
The Metro cover featured a large photo of NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, with the words "Horwath leads." Under the photo, there's a caption reading: "Andrea Horwath’s campaign to make life affordable and stop corruption gains traction with Ontario voters."
In small print just above Horwath are the words: "PAID FOR BY ONTARIO NDP."
The cover also includes a graph from an Ipsos Reid poll from May 22 suggesting she tops both Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne and PC Leader Tim Hudak on the question of who would make the best premier.
The Ipsos Reid poll from last month did show Horwath ahead on the question of who would make the best premier, by the numbers reflected in the ad.
Not a single poll since the start of the Ontario campaign has shown Horwath to be leading in overall voting intentions, though.
The Ontario NDP also bought a wraparound on the front page of The Toronto Sun on May 22, mocking both the Liberals and Tories.
Now, let's look at the cover of 24 Hours.
It features a photo of the Ontario PC leader, with the words: "Hudak wins debate." Just underneath, a caption reads: "With laser-like focus on jobs and ending government waste."
But the cover also has references to "New Liberal Taxes," the gas plant scandal, and the threat of a Liberal-NDP coalition that will mean "higher taxes, more waste, lost jobs."
In the top right corner are the words: "PAID ADVERTISING FEATURE."
A "flash poll" of 1,765 debate viewers by Ipsos Tuesday night did show Hudak was seen as the night's big winner by 36 per cent, compared to 27 per cent for Wynne and 26 per cent for Horwath.
It appears Hudak's team is taking a page from British Columbia Premier Christy Clark, who did much the same thing last spring during the B.C. election.
After the leaders' debate, the Vancouver edition of "24 Hours" featured an ad hailing Clark, who was trailing at the time, as the "Comeback kid." The B.C. NDP called the ad an "illusion" and it raised the ire of some journalism professors but Clark defended the ad on the campaign trail.
"It says paid advertising on it, and I think people take it for what it is. I think people are used to looking at ads in a newspaper," she told a reporter.
A spokesperson for Elections B.C. told The Globe and Mail nothing in Clark's ad violated elections rule.
Of course, Clark would go on to win a majority government.
According to the advertising guidelines from Elections Ontario:
All political printed advertising, handbills, placards, posters and broadcast or telecast advertisements shall bear or make reference to the name of the registered constituency association, registered political party, registered third party, person, corporation or trade union authorizing the political advertising.
The Horwath wrap on Metro does mention that the ad is paid for by the Ontario NDP. The Hudak wrap doesn't specify who paid for the ad, but does feature a small Ontario PC logo at the bottom of the page.
What do you think of the two ads? Tell us in the comments.