TheStar Hudak and Horwath scold McGuinty for missing northern Ontario debate
In my humble estimation, Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty has been (mostly) kicking Tory leader Tim Hudak's butt during this Ontario election campaign. McGuinty's cause has been helped greatly by Hudak's own small-minded approach to leadership and politics. In response to the Liberal promise to provide tax credits to a small number of businesses that provide training/accreditation opportunities for immigrant professionals (in regulated industries), Hudak's response was over-the-top and showed a shocking lack of judgment. Hudak's first impulse was to fan the flames of intolerance against so-called 'foreign workers', even after it became clear the Liberal proposal was designed to assist Canadian citizens in the country for less than five years. It was as if Hudak was feeling nostalgic for 1995 when his hero and former leader, Mike Harris, fanned the flames of resentment against visible minorities over the employment equity issue and the poor over the work for welfare issue to great victory. Clearly in 2011, such attacks don't work anymore.
McGuinty has benefited thus far from what appears to be a strong desire by voters to "stay the course" and not choose risky or untested options in these uncertain economic times. McGuinty has a plan for the future and a relatively decent record. Hudak has a tonne of complaints and nothing much different from the current administration in terms of policy. Hudak's vision for the province remains largely a mystery to most voters. Until the decision by McGuinty to skip today's leaders' debate on Northern Ontario issues, McGuinty's campaign has been exceedingly effective. But this choice to snub a region already feeling neglected by Queen's Park puts several Liberal seats in great jeopardy. The Liberals now hold seven seats in northern Ontario. After today, they'll be lucky to hang on to three. More than likely, they'll get only two seats (Sault Ste Marie and Sudbury) and be shut out of northwestern Ontario altogether. Even my former boss, Michael Gravelle, who has previously commanded nearly 75% of the vote in his constituency, looks in danger of losing his Thunder Bay-Superior North seat. That would be a huge shame.
Why would McGuinty make this bizarre choice? For such a skilled veteran on the campaign trail, it confuses me. The Liberals are in a tough fight and the resurgent NDP has been biting at their progressive heels. With the Tories fading back to the low-mid 30s in terms of support, the Liberals need to reach the high 30s/low 40s in voter support to win that coveted third majority. But with the NDP's Andrea Horwath doing well in this campaign thus far, the NDP vote seems steady in the mid-high 20s. That would be enough for them to take six or seven seats in the North, up from three. In the end, we could easily end up seeing the Liberals fall just short of the 54 seats they need for another majority. If the campaign gets worse for the Liberals (as anything can happen in an election campaign), the Tories could get new life and end up squeaking out a victory by a seat or two. In that scenario, hanging on to those seats in the North might've made the difference.
I guess party central in the Liberal war room figures they're already losing most of their northern seats, so why bother make the trek north today? I don't know. Seems foolishly reckless to me. But maybe they know something I don't. They usually do.