Premier Kathleen Wynne, PC Leader Doug Ford, and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath entered the second leaders’ debate of the campaign, and of this week. This debate was jointly hosted by the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM) and the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association (NOMA).
While this debate had a northern Ontario focus, the geography wasn’t the only shift in dynamics. It was clear from the outset that Andrea Horwath’s gains in recent days has placed her firmly into the discussion and as an increased target. Far from shrinking under the increased scrutiny, Horwath debated each of her rivals without the assistance of any briefing notes on her podium.
The debate featured traditional northern issues such as mining, access to services, transportation infrastructure, balancing economic development and environmental policies, and the need to create policies with a northern lens being applied at the outset. Of interest to municipalities more broadly was the recognition from all three parties for the need for continued discussions on downloading /uploading of costs and responsibilities.
One of the most unanticipated moments in the debate came in response to a question about the potential development of an immigration recruitment pilot project for northern communities to bolster the dwindling population numbers. Doug Ford surprised his competitors and those watching by stating “I’d be more than happy to sit down and talk to the folks and look at a pilot project. But number one, I’m a pretty generous guy — I’m taking care of our own first. Once we take care of our own, once we exhaust every single avenue and don’t have anyone that can fill a job, then I’d be open to that.”
From a general policy perspective, there were no new programs announced during the debate. For example, with respect to health care:
Although there were no “knock out” punches in any of the exchanges, there were plenty of solid jabs on all fronts.
- Premier Wynne focused on her record of investments in the north as well as the necessity to directly engage with communities before implementing infrastructure projects. This is in direct response to Ford’s controversial comments about jumping on a bulldozer himself to get the Ring of Fire project built.
- Ford read through a list of recent bed and staffing cuts at various hospitals throughout the north. Ford then re-iterated to his support for frontline doctors and nurses. He re-iterated his commitment for 30,000 new care beds, although the timelines used in the northern debate differed from the previously announced “15,000 new long-term care beds in five years, and 30,000 new beds over the next 10 years”. We are expecting clarity on the timelines in the coming days. Dr. Rueben Devlin is overseeing Mr. Ford’s health care policy for the campaign.
- Horwath challenged Ford about his lack of platform or details on cuts, that she has been honest and transparent about her platform and priorities. She accused Premier Wynne of making Northerners the “unintended consequences” of one-size fits all policy decisions made in the south.
The campaign is only a few days old and will only get more interesting as we move closer to election day.
The province-wide televised leaders’ debate will take place on Sunday, May 27th from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the CBC Broadcast Centre in downtown Toronto.