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Ontarians Need Less Hollywood, More Main Street

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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.

Jason Lietaer (PC):

Hollywood.

I used the word last week to describe the McGuinty campaign and its staged photo op at a "green jobs" facility that was secretly laying off its workers.

The theme continues today. The McGuinty script is simple: Hudak would cut health and education. Fair political discourse. That's their belief, even though it's wrong and there's no evidence to back it up. But here's the problem: McGuinty is not just projecting forward, he's lying about the past. I try to avoid using the word "lying" in politics. It's thrown around too much to describe disagreement. But when it happens, there is no way around it.

Liberals said this morning that Progressive Conservatives "cut" funding to Mount Sinai hospital in Toronto. They gave a number -- $12 million. Is it possible to cut fiscal years to find a number that looks like that? Possibly. But the facts are these: the operating funding for Mount Sinai when Mike Harris took over in 1995 was $113 million. When he left office in 2002, it was $191 million. Some "cut."

Last week in Ottawa, Dalton McGuinty rhymed off four hospitals that he says Conservatives "closed." One problem: three are still open. It's easy to throw these allegations around -- for example, Dalton McGuinty actually DID close Peel Memorial Hospital. He DID close the ER at Fort Erie. But it's beside the point. The parties have almost identical spending plans for health care. There is little difference, other than a policy disagreement on LHINs and some other issues.

The real differences in this campaign are around jobs and relief. Dalton McGuinty says his idea for jobs is Samsung. Great if you work for Samsung. Not so great if you're one of the 550,000 unemployed Ontarians who don't have an "in" there. This is the Hollywood campaign: pretend everyone can get one of the favoured jobs, and when the game of musical chairs ends after the election, tell Ontario families you screwed up again. Sorry. Miscalculated. Just like coal plants. And eco-fees. And eHealth.

Not good enough. You can't fool everybody all the time. Ontarians should ask themselves a simple question: am I in line for one of the favoured Samsung jobs? If the answer is no, then there's a followup: am I willing to pay for somebody else to? That's the McGuinty plan.

Our solution: let everybody keep a little more of their own money. Tried and true. It's decidedly less Hollywood, but a lot more Main Street.

Heather Fraser (NDP):

Jason, I'm glad you raised health care -- it's an important issue that warrants discussion. Neither the Liberals or the Tories can run from their records on health care so I will leave you two to defend them. However I do want to make this point: the amount of money spent on health care is not the only issue in health care -- it's also about how those precious dollars are spent.

Horwath and the New Democrats want to put the dollars where they will do the most for every day Ontarians. That means funding health care services instead of CEO pay. Under the Liberals, CEO salaries have skyrocketed while almost a million Ontarians are without a family doctor. We'll focus on frontline care, not six-figure CEO salaries. I disagree that there are no real differences between the parties on health care.

So Jason, you want to go Main Street on your jobs message, eh? New Democrats would be happy to show you around -- we've lived in the neighbourhood a long time. What folks on Main Street are looking for are practical ideas for job creation, health care they can count on and a new approach to politics that's about finding solutions, not just laying blame.

And a final message to John -- there's still time for Dalton McGuinty to join the northern debate tomorrow. Why not? With just two weeks to go isn't it time to debate the issues face to face?

John Duffy (Liberal):

Premier McGuinty and the Liberals feel pretty good about their record in health care. The Grits say they are opening 18 new hospitals, and have renovated or expanded 100 hospitals, adding operating rooms, making emergency rooms larger and creating more space for labs and MRI machines. Over the next five years, the Liberal capital plan calls for close to $8 billion in new hospitals, creating 79,000 jobs.

I think the Liberals have had a good week on pushing the health care issue with several positive announcements and some important issues such as the Premier's call for a 10-year health accord with Ottawa. I also believe that your candidate, Heather, has had a decent week advancing the campaign we've talked about: one focusing on her personal characteristics and making her an attractive option for those seeking a positive if undefined change in the political tone.

I am having less ease finding Mr. Hudak's message in all this. Today's barbecue dare has received more of a concentrated burst of media attention than anything he's said this week. Perhaps it's a diabolical draw-play to get the Liberals to sermonize on how charcoal creates greenhouse gasses, or some sort of social media smoke-signal to the red meat crowd in the PC base. All kidding aside, it feels to me as though today Mr. Hudak is playing into the campaign Ms. Horwath wants. Other days seem to have different messages. I'm not sure I'm seeing this week the kind of focus and discipline from the PC campaign that I'm seeing from the other two.

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.

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