The televised Leaders’ Debate last evening—the only one of the campaign—gave us a spirited scrap over taxes, health care and electricity costs, as the leaders of the three main parties faced off in a spirited defence of their party platforms. Premier Dalton McGuinty and PC leader Tim Hudak tried to break out of the statistical deadlock in which they find their parties with election day, Oct. 6, just around the corner. While NDP leader Andrea Horwath seemed determined to show she could play with the big boys.
Ms. Horwath probably won the debate with Mr. Hudak coming in a solid second. She came across as confident and well-prepared, and was to-the-point when she challenged the premier over his recent decision to relocate a planned power-plant from Oakville, where it is unpopular with voters. Her sharp jab, saying that what has changed Mr. McGuinty’s mind is that we’re in an election campaign, set the more experienced man back on his heels, at least, momentarily.
Tim Hudak succeeded in looking like he could be a premier, and that’s a victory of sorts. He spoke calmly and seemed the most comfortable of the three leaders. He not so deftly avoided, however, answering a question about specific spending cuts, choosing instead to offer generalities. And, sadly, when asked about the lack of big ideas in the campaign, he missed a golden opportunity to offer one. Instead, the PC leader attacked Mr. McGuinty’s green-energy strategy. Do these old-time diversionary tactics work any more—if they ever did?
One solid punch landed by Mr. Hudak could have been the best blow of the evening: after the premier boasted about his government’s record, Mr. Hudak countered with words to the effect that, during the Liberals’ eight-year term, Ontario’s economy has grown 10 per cent and government spending has increased 80 per cent. Wham!
I suppose that, from a Liberal perspective, there was no knock-out punch, just a sharp jab or two and, perhaps, one solid body blow. But the premier survived. And when you’re defending an uneven two-term majority record, survival is victory.
One question: what were those arm gyrations and hand twisting of Mr. McGuinty’s about? I found all that index-finger waving distracting. He seemed to be saying, watch my hands, don’t listen to my excuses.
Or could he have been trying to conjure up the carbon-tax genie? Hope not.