The Progressive Conservatives' Tim Hudak and the New Democrats' Andrea Horwath emerged as the clear winners in Tuesday's leaders' debate, as Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne spent 90 minutes attempting to correct her party's record of debt, deficits, and corruption.
Within hours of the debate's conclusion polls made it clear Hudak was the winner. Horwath also put on a formidable showing; even if you don't believe there was any clear winner, it was clear Wynne came out the loser.
Wynne was quickly put on the spot when the first question asked, recorded by an Ontario voter, was how the Wynne government could be trusted to oversee their proposed Ontario Pension Plan when they had thrown away $1.1 billion of taxpayers' money on the gas plants scandal. Surprisingly, Wynne stumbled to explain that she was sorry that the money was wasted, but she was focused on "investments" for the future.
Both Horwath and Hudak provided defining moments as they attempted to recreate the Mulroney-Turner "you had an option" showdown over the Liberals' gas plants scandal. Horwath's zinger came first when she said "you can change the chairs around the table, but the corruption in the Liberal Party runs deep." There is much credence behind Horwath's statement: the last 11 years of Liberal government have been defined by Liberal special interests and Liberal lobby groups using Liberal staff with Liberal connections to receive and abuse taxpayers' money.
In fact, despite scandal after scandal, McGuinty defended his cabinet ministers, sometimes even promoting them to more senior cabinet positions. Wynne has continued to support cabinet ministers whose departments have been involved in scandals. Hudak said a cabinet minister involved in anything even partially as serious as the Liberals' gas plant scandal would be fired from cabinet.
Hudak's quote of the night came over Ontario's massive debt level and constant Liberal deficits: "Alberta's largest export is oil. Ours is our next generation." Hudak's statement should strike home for every Ontarian, who currently owes $19,955 to cover his or her part of paying off the debt. That's also $19,955 for every child already born, being born right now, or who is born tomorrow. Ontario pays over $10 billion just in interest to carry this massive debt every year - and the Liberals have doubled it since taking office.
Much of the night's debate saw Hudak and Horwath agreeing with one another. While disagreeing on the policies their party would implement if elected, they constantly traded compliments over the good points the other made about the Liberal legacy. Both agreed Ontarians had had enough of the constant Liberal corruption, deficits, massive debt, and reckless green energy experiments.
Wynne had to fight to get a word in, and when she was given the chance to speak she seemed agitated and annoyed.
But while Horwath faded as the debate waged on, Hudak emerged as a leader, the only one who brought it to the voters straight with the desperate need to change Ontario's trajectory.
Hudak's answers were heartfelt and honest. They were the blunt wake up call that every Ontarian needs to hear. Hudak was also clear "if you think taxes are too low, vote for Wynne or Horwath." He was the only leader on the stage arguing for a plan to balance the budget in two years and get Ontario back on track by creating one million jobs.
Hudak pulled farther ahead when he signed his Oath to Ontario, a pledge that would be signed by every member of a Conservative cabinet and would hold them to a significantly higher standard than the Liberals have held their cabinet to account. Hudak said ministers would be fired from cabinet or see their pay docked if they failed to fulfill promises. He also backed up his Oath by saying he would resign if he didn't completely fulfill the 31 promises in his campaign platform.
In all, the leaders' debate solidified the focus on Hudak's Million Jobs Plan, gave Andrea Horwath a fair showing, and saw Kathleen Wynne struggle to explain the Liberals' legacy of scandals.
Daniel Dickin's book on the Ontario Liberal legacy, Liars: The McGuinty-Wynne Record, is available in paper copy through Freedom Press Canada and in paper and e-book format through Amazon.ca.
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