Although the writ hasn’t yet dropped, yesterday’s City TV debate has given us the first look at a narrative that is likely to continue to play out on the campaign trail over the next few weeks.
Ontario’s three party leaders (the Greens were shut out of this debate and the remaining two) took to the stage, each attempting to set the tone for the 28-day election that officially begins tomorrow. The debate was focused on Toronto issues – policing, transit, safe injection sites, autism services, hydro and home ownership – and took an interesting approach, with the questions formulated by people that had been featured in past City TV news coverage.
The theme underlying the debate was of a government that has been in place for the last 15 years. The Premier responded by touting her government’s record, repeatedly emphasizing the need to listen to the experts, and positioning her government as being on the front lines of the issues, making the tough calls. Both Doug Ford and Andrea Horwath repeatedly returned to the theme, suggesting that the Liberal government had ignored many of the most important issues for much of its time in power – and arguing that as a result, the time for change has come. Both the Premier and Andrea Horwath targeted Doug Ford throughout the debate, pressing him for details on where efficiencies would be found, making repeated references to the impacts of cuts, and calling on him for more information on key platform commitments.
Overall, Doug Ford positioned himself as an advocate for the people, pledging to govern for the people, and taking the opportunity afforded by the debate to announce a new commitment to spend $5 billion on a regional transit program for the GTA.
The Premier continued to weave in the “care not cuts” messaging that has been at the forefront over the past few months, positioning her party as one that will continue to build the province up.
For her part, Andrea Horwath suggested that voters don’t have to choose between bad and worse—but can instead choose change for the better, a nod to her campaign tagline.
In the end, none of the leaders landed a knockout blow. There was, however, a lot of jockeying and talking over one another in various attempts to prevail. But we did get a glimpse into the overarching narrative that each will take with them onto the campaign trail. It was an important debate to kick off the campaign—given that the vote-rich GTA is a key battleground in the June election.
We’ll be watching over the course of the 28-day campaign to see how that messaging is resonating, and how the respective parties and their leaders are faring in the polls—and will issue updates as the campaign unfolds.