Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Party Leaders to Square off in First Debate Ahead of Ontario Election

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Party Leaders to Square off in First Debate Ahead of Ontario Election

Article excerpt

Leaders square off in first debate before Ontario election

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TORONTO - The leaders of Ontario's three main political parties will square off on the same stage for the first time Monday, just days before the official start of the province's spring election campaign.

Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne, Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford and New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath will all participate in the live debate in Toronto, which will be broadcast on City TV.

It's the first of three debates scheduled before the June 7 vote and observers say it will give voters a clear view of how the parties and their leaders intend to campaign once the writ drops two days later.

"The (party) strategists have had several months to think about how to package their appeals, which voters they want to collect to their side and how to try to depict the opposition's limitations against their own virtues," said Cristine de Clercy, an associate political science professor at Western University. "We'll see a small template of their messaging."

Many will be watching Ford closely as the newly-minted Tory leader debates two seasoned provincial politicians, de Clercy said.

"It's worth remembering he just got this job," she said. "For him it's a test of leadership, does he have the gravitas, control and focus to show what he'll do as premier?"

The debate will also begin to draw increased scrutiny to the campaign, which has unofficially been underway for weeks, de Clery said.

That means issues like Ford's recent flip-flop on whether to allow development in a large protected green space around the Toronto region -- first pledging he would, then reversing course -- will take on added importance, she said.

"If Mr. Ford continues to take positions that he has to very hastily back away from ... he will not look credible or trustworthy on policy. That, for him, is a big liability."

And on Saturday, the Tory leader removed Tanya Granic Allen, a social conservative and outspoken opponent of the province's sex education curriculum, from the PC ballot in Mississauga Centre.

Granic Allen's dismissal came hours after the Liberals shared an edited video in which she expresses views the governing party described as representing "hatred and homophobia. …

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