With the kick-off to Ontario's 40th general election on Oct. 6, The Huffington Post Canada kicks off its coverage with lively, ongoing debates between three of the smartest and most plugged-in politicos in the province: John Duffy arguing for the McGuinty camp; Jason Lietaer in Hudak's corner; and Heather Fraser duking it out for Horwath. Check in with HuffingtonPost.ca every weekday for the freshest and best election coverage on the web.
Heather Fraser (NDP):
The Progressive Conservatives and the Liberals have been engaged in a war of words over the flawed Liberal proposal for a new Ontarian tax credit.
On the substance of the matter, this proposal is fundamentally flawed. A jobs strategy must serve all Ontarians whether they are new to Canada or have been here for generations. Andrea Horwath and the NDP have proposed a plan that will create 80,000 jobs by rewarding companies with up to $5,000 for every new hire. And we're open to debating other positive solutions to get Ontario working.
The biggest problem with the Liberal proposal is its cynical approach to politics. The Liberals clearly launched a platform plank they knew would goad the Tories into a reaction. And the Tories' predictable reaction serves only to divide people and communities by setting Ontarians against their neighbours.
While the parties may think there are political gains to be had in this debate they are ignoring the real impact of this debate. Frankly, it turns voters off. In their effort to fire off a shot at their opponent, the two parties have started a debate that serves only to divide and not unite us. It serves to deepen cynicism rather than inspire hope and positive solutions. It serves to alienate people from the political process rather than encourage them to join in.
It's time to return to the high road and deliver solutions that will have a real and lasting impact to make life better and more affordable. It's time to end the mudslinging and wedge politics and talk about positive solutions and debate the real issues.
So how about it?
John Duffy (Liberal):
Good policy is good politics, and the Liberal tax support for recent entrants to the Ontario workforce is good policy.
Heather raises an interesting angle: the NDP critique that suggests the debate about the tax support is mostly about political cynicism by her opponents. This pitch may be intended to reflect the federal NDP's posture in the recent federal-election, where "anti-political" messages worked well for both the New Democrats and for Mr. Harper's Conservatives.
However, the Ontario NDP may be itself vulnerable when it comes to charges of overt cynicism. The dropping of environmental issues, and the advancement of a tax cut that will go against electricity conservation have been widely seen as a divergence from principle by the NDP in search of "pocketbook" relevance. In this sense and some others, the NDP has swung more towards Mr. Hudak's version of the campaign than Premier McGuinty's. That swing makes it tougher for Ms. Horwath to claim the moral high ground on a range of issues.
All of which leaves voters with a different set of political choices than "politics vs. principle," as Heather's formulation would have it. My own sense is that the election will come down to this: do you want to keep moving forward in tough times with the moderate, progressive agenda of Premier McGuinty, or do you want to take a chance on moving in a different direction under Mr. Hudak, Mr. Harper and Mr. Ford?
Jason Lietaer (PC):
The burning question that I have is this: how did the NDP tour team convince the Rogers Centre to let them in to do an event there that may hurt their ability to sell seats? I'll be looking for tour pointers at the end of the campaign from these special operatives... most impressive.
John -- I loved your ballot question and how you subbed in Mayor Ford and Stephen Harper. Tricky. Didn't know they were on the ballot. It's amusing how Liberals want to talk about anything other than Dalton McGuinty's record, but one of my favourite topics is the incoherence on the use of the term "Stephen Harper."
Some days Liberal "strategists" talk about "replicating" the Harper campaign. And sometimes (and often, the same day) someone will send out a missive saying that Stephen Harper is the reason you have to vote for Tim Hudak. Newsflash: Harper won 73 seats in Ontario just a few months ago.
Which leads us to the reason to vote for Tim Hudak. This province needs to be turned around. Dalton McGuinty has increased spending by about 80 per cent in his mandate. He's raised taxes and hydro rates. Ontario families can't make ends meet -- and they're more worried about paying their bills than they are excited about affording one of Mr. McGuinty's new, expensive electric cars.
By my count, Dalton McGuinty has done two events so far in this campaign promoting electric cars and three events selling unaffordable solar and wind energy -- but not said one word about giving relief for families. Telling. And a big reason why Ontario voters are tuning him out.
Heather Fraser (NDP):
Gentlemen: For the record, there are three candidates for premier: Andrea Horwath, Dalton McGuinty, and Tim Hudak. Stephen Harper and Rob Ford are not on the ballot.
John, you may want to paint this as a two way race but the New Democrats' positive message is clearly resonating with voters. If we can take any lessons from the recent federal campaign it's that the voters decide who is in the race, not the strategists, the media or the backroom operatives.
Andrea Horwath and the New Democrats have a principled platform that addresses the challenges that everyday Ontarians face. People know that they don't have to be scared into a false dichotomy. Ontarians have a positive choice and an opportunity for a different kind of politics.
As for our event at the Roger's Centre today, thanks Jason... Jose Bautista isn't the only one who can hit one out of the park.
John Duffy (Liberal):
I just came from taping The Agenda With Steve Paikin. The most interesting part of Steve's customarily strong interview with Ms. Horwath was the tough questions he asked her about this stuff. It's fascinating viewing and airs tonight on TVO.
Premier McGuinty's political identity and offering are well-defined: health care, education and jobs. Ms. Horwath and Mr. Hudak are both seeking to establish themselves in a crowded space.
Essentially, the NDP has eased off environmental and social justice issues to go for tax cuts and other "pocketbook" items. The potential repercussions have less to do with people voting the specific policy stances, and more to do with the historic NDP brand as the "party of principle." The potential rewards of the NDP strategy are significant, but the risks are very real.
Jason Lietaer (PC):
Looking forward to that interview, John. Paikin always does a fantastic job.
Everybody's been circling around the issue of jobs the last couple of days. The choices are pretty stark when you consider what's in front of Ontarians. A premier who has presided over the loss of 300,000 manufacturing jobs, or a new leader who has different ideas.
Despite Heather's protestations -- and despite being able to somehow get past Rogers Centre security earlier -- most people don't think of the NDP as the party of jobs. Taxes? Yes. Debt? Sure. But jobs? No.
So you're left with McGuinty or Hudak. One leader with a proven track record... job losses. One with a new plan. The question Ontario voters have to ask themselves is this: if Mr. McGuinty couldn't do the job for the last eight years, why would it change now? And listen to the McGuinty jobs plan -- nothing on getting the economy moving. Nothing on tax relief for families and individuals. Only big subsidies (funded by your tax dollars) to favoured corporations and groups. Too bad after eight long years he hasn't yet learned the secret -- you can't tax your way to prosperity.
John Duffy, political strategist for the Ontario Liberal election campaign, is also the founder of StrategyCorp and author of author of 'Fights of Our Lives: Elections, Leadership and the Making of Canada.' Jason Lietaer, the Hudak campaign's communications director, is also the vice president of public affairs of Enterprise Canada. Heather Fraser, representing the NDP, is the director of communications for the Canadian Union of Public Employees.