11/25/2014 08:07 EST | Updated 01/25/2015 05:59 EST

Ontario PC leadership candidates take aim at Wynne in Sudbury debate

Ontario's Progressive Conservatives held their first leadership debate Monday night in Sudbury, and each took shots at what they called health care cuts under Premier Kathleen Wynne.

Candidates Christine Elliott, Vid Fedeli, Lisa MacLeod and Patrick Brown each set their sights on the Wynne government during the debate in northern Ontario. 

Fielding several questions on health care from the crowd, each candidate seized upon what they called examples of poor performance in the sector and laid blame with the Liberals.

Fedeli chastised the government for, as he put it, slicing health budgets in order to balance the budget.

The fifth candidate in the race so far, Monte McNaughton, did not attend the debate.

All candidates agreed that northern Ontario has been overlooked.

Brown blamed the Liberal government.

"This government has not had a northern lens. Their decisions are made by southerners in Toronto."

Elliott expressed similar sentiments:

"They're dealing with issues around Toronto. That has been their focus."

But all four candidates told those assembled they felt the PC Party has also ignored the north.

MacLeod highlighted how the previous leader, Tim Hudak, skipped the one northern Ontario debate in the last election.

"We wrote off segments of our voting population."

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'Tired of seeing us lose'

As for specific issues, everything from a PET scanner for Sudbury to the future of the closed pulp mill in Fort Frances came up.

But other than generally pledging support for the north and promising to pay attention to northern issues, there were few details.

Criticism of the Conservatives ignoring the north goes back to when they were last in government, lead by a northerner, Mike Harris from North Bay.

Fedeli, who is currently Nipissing's MPP, is now trying to be the second northern leader in party history.

Brown said he’s keen on leading the party because he’s “tired of seeing us lose."

Elliott, who many see as the front-runner, said the party needs to speak to more voters, instead of just preaching to the party faithful.

"The conventional wisdom has been Conservatives don't win on health care, we don't win on education, we don't win on the environment,” she said.

But Fedeli countered one way to build the party is to give a helping hand to young people with right-wing views.

He said he tells students who are stuck listening to "left wing professors" to “email me or text me, right away, and I'll send you the talking points."

Party members will vote by preferential ballot on either May 3 or May 7 and the results will be announced May 9 at the party's leadership convention in Toronto.

Candidates have until Jan. 30 to file nomination papers.