Doug Ford targeted by Kathleen Wynne, Andrea Horwath in first major debate before election

Ontario party leaders spar in first major debate before election
WATCH ABOVE: Kathleen Wynne, Doug Ford and Andrea Horwath sparred over numerous issues in their first major debate before the election. Shallima Maharaj reports.

In the first televised debate before the June election, Ontario party leaders Kathleen Wynne and Andrea Horwath aggressively targeted Doug Ford and his promises to find government efficiencies.

“There’s a very stark contrast that people are going to see in this election. It’s a contrast between a care plan and a cut plan that Doug Ford is bringing forward,” Wynne, who has been premier and leader of the Ontario Liberal Party since 2013, said while touting investments in education, healthcare and infrastructure.

“Mr. Ford is going to offer more cuts, which will only make life harder. It doesn’t have to be that way. You can have a premier in the province that’s puts the people at the heart of every decision she makes,” Horwath said while talking about high hydro rates and hospital wait times.

READ MORE: Kathleen Wynne calls Doug Ford’s ‘nice smile on your face’ comment disappointing

Ford, who was elected leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario in March, focused on Wynne and her government’s record primarily during the debate.

Story continues below advertisement

“After 15 years of Liberal mismanagement, scandal and waste, it’s time for change … we will make sure we bring government that’s going to respect the taxpayers,” he said, adding he’ll work to reduce hospital wait times, address hydro issues and create jobs.

Ford also reiterated several times that he’s going to find efficiencies in government — a commitment Horwath and Wynne questioned.

READ MORE: Ford a bystander in progressive-oriented Ontario debate, Wynne and Horwath both strong: experts

Wynne suggested that Ford’s plan to find “efficiencies” really means firing nurses and teachers – harkening back to the Liberals’ warnings about former Tory leader Tim Hudak’s 2014 proposal to cut 100,000 public sector jobs.

“The other Conservative leaders, Mr. (Tim) Hudak, Mr. (Mike) Harris – they were very up front about what their cuts are going to look like,” Horwath told Ford.

Story continues below advertisement

“Why don’t you have the guts to tell people what your cuts are going to look like. What is in store for Ontario?”

“Not one single person is not getting laid off under our administration, not one person,” Ford responded.

REALITY CHECK: Anti-Conservative ads and ‘health-care cuts’

Earlier in the debate, Ford said he believes “in driving efficiencies” but didn’t say where specifically he would cut.

“I believe there’s a better way of delivering services,” he said.

The debate was hosted by City TV in downtown Toronto. The leaders responded to a variety of questions, including the topics of policing and deescalation, carding, support for children with autism, hydro and housing affordability.

Meanwhile, in response to a question about transit incentives, Ford said he would spend billions on regional transportation projects in the GTA.

“I’m announcing today that we’re putting $5 billion into new subways, relief lines, two-way GO all the way to Niagara Falls — we’re going to make sure we build rapid transit,” he said, adding the money would be “over and on top of whatever else is allocated.”

Wynne touted her government’s recent $9-billion transit announcement for Toronto and billions in infrastructure spending across Ontario. Horwath said if elected, her government would provide operational funding for Ontario transit systems to help with funding services.

Story continues below advertisement

READ MORE: Kathleen Wynne backs Toronto transit relief and SmartTrack plan

The Green Party of Ontario, which doesn’t have any MPPs in the provincial legislature, was not included in the debate. The party had 4.8 per cent of the overall vote in the 2014 Ontario election.

Mike Schreiner, the party’s leader, posted a series of video responses on the topics raised during the debate.

The provincial campaign will be Ford’s first as leader while this will be Wynne’s second, and Horwath’s and Schreiner’s third time.

Election day in Ontario is June 7.

–With files from The Canadian Press