NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has been pushing for a debate in the north for weeks, saying issues such as unemployment and the high cost of living in that area deserve their own turn in the spotlight.
She was the first to accept an invitation from the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association to debate issues affecting the north on Sept. 23 in Thunder Bay.
On Wednesday, PC Leader Tim Hudak also accepted -- saying he'd debate with Horwath whether or not McGuinty "decides to show up."
"I'm very concerned about what's happening in northern Ontario -- whole communities being wiped out with mill closures," Hudak said during a campaign stop in Leamington to tout his plan for a sex offender registry.
Hudak said he hoped the premier would join them "because northern Ontario has been wiped out under Dalton McGuinty's high taxes and expensive hydro policies."
McGuinty declined the invite Wednesday, although the Liberals did say they'll push for a northern segment in the televised leaders' debate set to take place in Toronto on Sept. 27.
"I'm very much looking forward to the debate that has already been scheduled," McGuinty said in Ottawa before heading north for a tour that includes stops in Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury on Thursday.
"I think it's a great opportunity for us to debate northern issues and to do it in a format that makes those issues of relevance and importance to all Ontarians."
McGuinty added he had also received other invitations for debates in French, but believed the one planned will suffice. He's the only one of the three party leaders who is fluently bilingual.
McGuinty's northern tour will be his first trip to the area during the campaign. The Liberals were criticized heavily last week for releasing their northern platform with little fanfare while their leader was in Toronto.
Horwath, whose northern platform release included stops in three northern cities, said northerners would be disappointed at McGuinty's refusal to take part in the debate.
"I don't know why Mr. McGuinty is not prepared to give northerners the respect that they deserve to have that northern debate," she said Wednesday while campaigning in southwestern Ontario.
But Horwath would be willing to hold the debate anyway, even without McGuinty.
"That's cool with me," she said. "If Mr. Hudak is prepared to come and the two of us debate with an empty chair, then I'm prepared to do that."
But it doesn't have to stop there, Horwath said.
"Here we are in southwestern Ontario talking about the jobs crisis here," she said after visiting a Ford plant in St. Thomas. "I'd be happy to have a debate on jobs right here with Mr. McGuinty, Mr. Hudak if they're willing to do that."