WATCH ABOVE: Wynne, Hudak and Horwath will drop the gloves tonight in the Leaders’ debate which you can watch live on Global Toronto and GlobalNews.ca
TORONTO – The leaders of Ontario’s three major political parties are preparing to debate at a crucial point in the campaign for both the party leaders and the electorate.
Tuesday’s leaders’ debate will be the only time Premier Kathleen Wynne, Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak and NDP leader Andrea Horwath face off ahead of the June 12 election (Wynne and Horwath took part in a northern leaders debate last month, but Hudak decided not to participate).
Global News will have live coverage of the Ontario leaders debate. Watch the debate live online from 6:30-8 p.m. ET.
“It’s the one and only time during the course of the whole writ period where all three leaders are in the same place at the same time, dealing with the same issues,” said Steve Paikin, debate moderator and host of TVO’s current affairs program The Agenda.
“It’s important for a couple of reasons. Number one, this is not like the Toronto mayoral race which goes on for 10 months, this is a month,” said Paikin.
For an electorate which perhaps hasn’t been paying too much attention, the debate is a point in the campaign when voters become engaged and hear about the issues and how those issues align with their world view.
But it’s also when voters can get a sense of who the party leaders are as people.
“It’s the one and really best opportunity to compare and contrast the gut feeling they get from these people,” said Paikin. “That gut instinct, I think, is absolutely as relevant and legitimate as the person who spends hours and hours poring over the platforms.”
While the campaign so far has been largely characterized as a two-horse race between Wynne and Hudak (numerous polls have the NDP in third place and both the Liberals and PC have dismissed the NDP as a real choice), all three leaders have a lot at stake.
“It’s high-risk, high-roller because there’s only nine days left once the leaders’ debate takes place, which is not much time to fix anything that goes wrong. And if you do really well that night you do yourself an enormous amount of good in terms of getting to the finish line. So it’s a big deal,” said Paikin.
Poll numbers have suggested many outcomes, a Liberal minority win, or maybe a majority, or a PC minority or majority (veteran pollsters suggest perhaps not paying attention to polls, anyway). The polls do show one thing — that the outcome of this election is still very much in doubt.
“Because of the vulnerability of both major parties in the polls and lack of strong momentum, (the debate) could attract more attention since there seem to be a lot of undecided or volatile voters out there,” said Jonathan Malloy, the chairman of Carleton University’s political science department.
During the debate, Hudak will likely have to defend his “Million Jobs Plan,” which has been criticized heavily by the Liberals and independent economists as faulty math (math Hudak said he stands behind). He’ll also have to defend his pledge to cut 100,000 public sector jobs, a move both the Liberals and NDP have slammed.
Ryerson University politics professor Wayne Petrozzi said Horwath and Wynne will push Hudak to explain the numbers behind his jobs plan.
“It’s really the only opportunity for the other two to draw him out and for him it’s also very important – it’s the one time he’s not going to be able to control the narrative,” Petrozzi said.
The governing Liberals’ record and past scandals will also take centre stage, and Wynne will likely have to address the cancellation of two gas plants during the 2011 election that could cost Ontario upwards of $1 billion.
Throughout the campaign both Hudak and Horwath have painted the Liberals as untrustworthy and corrupt.
Horwath will likely face questions over the direction she has taken the party in. Horwath triggered the election after refusing to support an NDP-friendly Liberal budget and several party stalwarts signed a letter threatening to withdraw their support for the party over, what they say, is an NDP shift to the right.
The biggest challenge ahead, however, may be the performance of the leaders during the debate.
While Hudak and Horwath have participated in a leaders’ debate before, Wynne hasn’t – something that may put her at a disadvantage.
Experts also say that personal characteristics play a large role in political leaderships – not just what the leaders say, but how they say it, how they convey traits such as honesty and trustworthiness.
And in that regard, Hudak may be at a disadvantage.
“He seems to at times almost ooze discomfort,” said Petrozzi. “It’s as if he looks at that thing, those cameras staring at him, and he imagines they’re rifles.”
Click here for complete coverage of the 2014 Ontario election.Follow @heatherloney
With files from The Canadian Press
© Shaw Media, 2014