05/26/2014 01:39 EDT | Updated 05/26/2014 02:59 EDT

2011 Tim Hudak Wouldn't Be Happy That 2014 Tim Hudak Skipped Northern Debate


As expected, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak skipped a debate on northern Ontario issues Monday, saying the event just didn't work with his busy schedule.

Hudak said it was "unfortunate" event organizers in Thunder Bay weren't able to find a date that worked for all party leaders.

And while Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath duked it out one-on-one, Hudak still received some shots.

"Mr. Hudak's absence sums up, I think, his opinion of northerners and what he thinks of them," Horwath said in her opening remarks.

The Tory leader took part in a town hall in Peterborough instead, where he faced a few hecklers unhappy with his controversial plan to fire 100,000 public sector employees.

"Shouldn't you be in Thunder Bay?" one shouted, according to Metro.

Hudak also had some photo-ops planned in the Toronto area Monday.

What a difference a few years can make.

Hudak took part in a northern issues debate in 2011 with Horwath but former Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty skipped the event because the date was "not suitable" for his campaign.

Well, that excuse wasn't good enough for Hudak.

"I'll hope he'll take the chance to look northern families in the eyes and tell them why he is ducking the debate in northern Ontario," Hudak said of McGuinty in the days leading up to the event.

"I wish he'd actually show up in Thunder Bay with Ms. Horwath and myself and talk about his plan."

Hudak said at the time that the debate gave each leader a chance to discuss unique challenges and problems in the north.

"Whole communities being wiped out with mill closures… and Dalton McGuinty has turned his back on Northern Ontario," Hudak told CBC News.

In fact, the PCs were so outraged that they even offered to cover the costs for McGuinty to appear via teleconference. The Liberals declined.

At the 2011 debate, Hudak wasted little time pointing out McGuinty's absence.

"Looks like we're missing someone," he quipped.

Hudak said at the time it was disappointing the premier chose to go to campaign events in Hamilton instead.

"It's kind of par for the course," Hudak said. "In Northern Ontario's greatest time of need Dalton McGuinty has been AWOL."

Liberals and New Democrats have been very critical of Hudak's decision not to take part in the event this time around.

The Liberal campaign even sent out a cheeky release Sunday night with cheap, last-minute flights to Thunder Bay.

In a column published over the weekend, the Toronto Star's Martin Regg Cohn said Hudak has "written off northern seats" and is content to sit back and watch Horwath and Wynne damage each other.

Regg Cohn called that strategy disrespectful to democracy.

"There is no justification — strategic or scheduling — for refusing to interact with one's political opponents and, more importantly, voters," he wrote.

All three party leaders will square off in a televised, 90-minute debate on Tuesday, June 3.

Ontario voters head to the polls on June 12.

With files from The Canadian Press

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