THE BLOG
09/20/2011 06:59 EDT | Updated 11/20/2011 05:12 EST

Andrea Horwath's "Plough Hits a Rock"

John Duffy (L): As the Canadian Press reported, Ms. Horwath is "standing behind a candidate who is coming under fire from the other parties for comments he made about religion and Nazis." We don't know how much quality control went into the NDP's candidate selection process, but one imagines we're going to find out in the days ahead.

CP

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):

Today all three leaders were at the International Plowing Match in Prescott-Russell. I admit it -- I was totally excited about it, and not just because I love the idea of seeing Andrea Horwath on an orange Kubota tractor. For the record, my money was on Horwath to win -- the plowing match AND the election.

It's too rare that the issues facing rural Ontarians are addressed by all three leaders on the same day and it's too rare for farmers to be in the spotlight of Ontario politics. Today was a day for a little fun and some serious talk about the future of farm communities.

True to form, Horwath talked about the future by announcing that New Democrats want to help more young Ontarians enter a career in agriculture by creating a new apprenticeship program and providing rural employers with a training tax credit to help train new employees for a future in agriculture. Smart, practical ideas to promote a robust future for farm communities.

And while all three leaders are together, maybe McGuinty could make time for a debate -- if he can catch up to Horwath that is.

John Duffy (Liberal):

It's tempting to joke about Ms. Horwath's plough hitting a rock today, but the matter of her candidate in Niagara-West-Glanbrook is a serious business. As the Canadian Press reported, Ms. Horwath is "standing behind a candidate who is coming under fire from the other parties for comments he made about religion and Nazis." It's a little hard to tell exactly what the NDP candidate, Mr. Marco, said exactly, and context on these things is important. That said, Mr. Marco's musings are a problem for the NDP. So, too, were the comments of the party's candidate in Thornhill, Mr. Weisleder, who was cashiered last week from the race by Ms. Horwath when his views regarding Israel became widely known.

This is not to suggest that every party has a perfect slate of candidates, or that historical/sociological musings are against the rules of engagement. Today's candidate eruption in Niagara points, however, to a relevant question about the NDP and its offering. Of the many aspects of the last federal campaign that Ms. Horwath probably seeks to emulate, certainly candidacies such as those we saw in Quebec are not among them. We don't know how much quality control went into the NDP's candidate selection process, but one imagines we're going to find out in the days ahead. It'll be an important test for Ms. Horwath as she seeks to compete for power on Oct. 6.

Jason Lietaer (PC):

I'll let the NDP defend their own candidate -- after the last two federal elections the NDP has a well-earned reputation for putting some real surprises on the ballot. The lesson: when your party struggles to fill the slate, you don't have much choice about quality.

I'm more intrigued by the Liberals increasing both the frequency and intensity of their attacks on Ms. Horwath and the NDP. They say you can always tell how a campaign is going by two things: first -- where it is going; and second -- who it is attacking.

Seasoned observers know that when a Liberal attack the dippers it only means one thing: they bleeding votes on the left. The Liberals missed this phenomenon in the federal election this spring and waited too long to try to stem the Layton tide. Looks to me like McGuinty is going to try to avoid making the same mistake this time too. It tells me that their internal polling says that the NDP is a real threat to their position.

This is the Liberal worry -- they are facing two untested leaders who many Ontarians will be really seeing for the first time in the next seven days. At the same time, most Ontarians have a pretty well formed (whether good or bad) opinion of Mr. McGuinty. He's not surprising anybody. Sometimes, it's just time for a change.

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.