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Hudak's 'Homophobic' Flyer: Intolerant or Informative?

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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 (@jasonlietaer) in Hudak's corner; and Heather Fraser (@ottawafraser) 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):

We are closing in on Election Day and speculation about the result is everywhere. The only thing that's clear is that the outcome of this election is still up for grabs. As of today, no party currently has a level of support that guarantees them a majority government. The good news is, every vote counts in this election. People have a real choice before them.

So what to do?

Mr. Hudak has decided on a Chicken Little approach. He proclaims the sky will fall if the Liberals and the NDP were to be left with more combined seats than his party. Mr. McGuinty is still hopeful that fear of the unknown will drive voters back to him. He's issuing categorical statements that he will not consider a coalition. Excellent. Now we know what he won't do, but we have no idea what he will do to make the legislature work.

Both leaders are missing a key opportunity to state what their top priorities will be regardless of the outcome. Andrea Horwath knows that no party can do everything at once so she's released a list of the New Democrats top five priorities. For New Democrats that means in the first 100 days, we'll get down to work creating jobs, making life more affordable, strengthening healthcare, rewarding green choices, and living within our means.

Andrea Horwath is running to be premier. But whether we find ourselves in majority or a minority, all parties have a responsibility to make the Legislature work for people. And whether she's in the premier's chair on the opposition, Ontarians can count on Horwath to advance those priorities.

Both Hudak and McGuinty are focused entirely on how the election affects them. Will they make a deal, won't they make a deal. Isn't it time to explain to voters how we will they make government work for people regardless of the outcome? Isn't it time to put our priorities on the table?

John Duffy (Liberal):

Two dynamics are shaping the finale of the campaign. The first one is receiving the most attention: a conversation that reflects the very tight race between the Liberals and PCs and the prominent role the NDP may play in the next provincial Parliament. Heather, your post is an interesting addition to that conversation.

However, it's the second dynamic, the one which is getting less notice, that may well be the underlying current beneath the waves of minority speculation. Over the past weeks, we've talked a few times about the prospect of competition between the PCs and the NDP for the "change" vote. Someone smart pointed out to me this afternoon that the word "change" has dropped out of the Tory advertising scripts. It's gone. Makes me wonder if the competition between Mr. Hudak and Ms. Horwath for the "change" vote, described in geographic terms above, hasn't resulted in a winner.

I think, we're starting to see this dynamic take hold geographically as well. It appears that NDP and PC support is concentrated in the province's hardest-hit areas, where middle-class voters (the core Liberal constituency) are feeling less secure. Ms. Horwath is showing strength in resource-extracting Northern Ontario and industrial Hamilton-Niagara. Mr. Hudak's best zones are in the province's rural belt that runs along Highway 7. That leaves the more-optimistic 401 -- with its necklace of urban/suburban areas holding robust middle-class populations, and the big rock of the Greater Toronto Area -- largely to the Liberals. In essence, the more positive the outlook, the more likely the area is poised to vote Liberal, and vice-versa.

Some of the hottest battlegrounds are emerging between PCs and New Democrats where their respective zones meet. Sarnia appears to be in play, as are points around London, plus Cornwall and even Nippissing. So intense is the competition between PC and New Democrat for the change vote in these areas, the possibility exists of Liberals squeaking through in three-way toss-ups. My guess at this late moment is that the interplay of this geographic dynamic and the minority-government conversation will chisel into place the final, critical features of the result now broadly taking shape.

That and, uh, this. It could be big. Jason?

Jason Lietaer (PC):

Well, what would a campaign be without a little Liberal name-calling. John is too polite and grown up, but the Liberal war room has been spinning all day, saying things about Conservatives that -- in regular conversation -- might be actionable.

After a number of campaigns fought against Liberals, I know that you can set your watch by this phenomenon. There will be some kind of allegation of hate or intolerance thrown by the grits. This time, it's homophobia. And it's nonsense.

I remember when McGuinty had to pull the sex ed curriculum because of outraged parents when he tried to bring it in months ago. Now, he's at it again -- making sure that parents don't have any say in what kids are taught at school about these topics. We stand on the side of parents.

John has a pretty optimistic reading of his hopes for the Liberal campaign. To hear his analysis, the Tories and the NDP are fighting over the scraps outside the GTA and the Liberals are sailing to victory all across Greater Toronto. Both we -- and the NDP -- have something to say about that.

Liberals are deathly afraid of NDP strength eating into their GTA support. And they aren't even bothering to fight in some ridings in rural Ontario. If I were the McGuinty candidate in Elgin-Middlesex-London, for example, I might feel a little left out.

John is right about one thing -- the vote patterns in this campaign are bringing areas into play that didn't once seem possible. For example, tomorrow morning I will be in Ottawa South. I can honestly say I didn't expect to be in Ottawa South two days before election day. Will we defeat Mr McGuinty for sure? No. But do we have a chance? For sure.

There's a reason why Mr McGuinty has been to his own riding twice in this campaign and in Bob Chiarelli's riding too. They're in tough. People are tired of being taken for granted. People on the doorsteps are telling us they love David McGuinty because he cares about the riding; Dalton -- not so much. He's out of touch and doesn't show his face much.

How will today's market meltdown affect folks when they go to the polls? It almost cost the Conservatives the federal election in 2008 before the party recovered in the last few days. This meltdown is coming in on the eve of voting. Will McGuinty benefit, or pay? Or will anyone notice?

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.