Ont. leaders declare victory after election debate
Published Wednesday, September 28, 2011 10:02AM EDT Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 6:06AM EDT
Ontario's party leaders were claiming victory one day after the Ontario provincial election debate, but observers were saying on Wednesday that it may take a few days before the public declares a winner.
Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty, Conservative Leader Tim Hudak and New Democrat Andrea Horwath rehashed old promises and repeated party lines during a televised leaders' debate Tuesday night that largely focused on job creation, tax measures and trustworthiness.
The debate was the first, and likely only, chance for the three leaders to square off face-to-face during the campaign and make their case as to why they should be elected premier on Oct. 6.
With about a week left before voters go the polls, Tuesday night's debate may be the last, best chance to rally voters. But pollster Nik Nanos says it may not have been enough to change many voters' minds.
"What these debates do is reinforce existing support, and they kind of shake a few people around," Nanos told CTV News Channel on Wednesday morning.
"The first impact will be on the people watching the debate and then … the political digestion takes place. People tune in to the news, they talk to their neighbours. Probably by the weekend we will have a good idea about how much the numbers will move in the closing parts of the campaign."
Recent polls show the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives are neck-and-neck, with both parties in minority government territory. That could make Horwath's New Democrats the election kingmakers.
McGuinty spent much of the 90 minutes defending his track record as premier while doing his best to turn the spotlight on his rivals, both of whom are running as party leaders for the first time.
Early on, Hudak described the Liberals' employment policy, which is largely focused on green energy manufacturing, as "a failure" that's driving up electricity rates.
McGuinty fired back that his green-energy policies have created jobs across the province, while the Tories would slash thousands of positions by nixing a contract with Korean multinational Samsung.
Horwath, meanwhile, said the Liberal plan has left students unemployed and saddled with "a mountain of debt."
It was the first time during the campaign that the leaders had the opportunity to address one another in the same room, and for voters to see them outside of photo-opportunities and staged campaign stops.
One issue hovering over the event was how McGuinty would handle questions about a decision to halt construction on a controversial gas-powered power plant in Mississauga.
Hudak attacked the Liberal leader over the decision during the debate, with Horwath suggesting the move was motivated by the election.
McGuinty later said he wasn't comfortable with Hudak's attitude toward "foreigners." The Conservative leader had used the term earlier in the election while attacked a Liberal plan to give tax breaks to companies that hire professional immigrants.
Nanos described the Ontario campaign thus far as a "Seinfeld campaign" – a campaign about nothing – which has made it difficult for parties to rally much enthusiasm. He added that voter turnout will likely be lower than the last provincial election, when slightly more than half of eligible voters participate.
"For a lot of Ontario voters they are a bit fatigued. They have come off a federal election, a municipal election and now they are dealing with a dose of provincial politics," Nanos said.
"Based on the negative campaign that we have seen, and the lack of positive spark, I think we are looking at another low voter turnout. And that usually favours the incumbent."
The party leaders all planned on sticking around the Toronto area on Wednesday, stumping for precious votes with little more than a week before the Oct. 6 vote.
McGuinty was scheduled to start the day at a campaign event in Vaughan before heading to Brampton and Barrie.
Hudak also had plans to appear in Brampton, Woodbridge and Toronto for a series of photo events, while Horwth was scheduled to have breakfast in Toronto before making stops in Brampton and Hamilton.