May 28, 2018 10:22 pm

COMMENTARY: Ontario election political panel debates who won final debate


Each week until the election, Global News presents regular updates from our political panel, where Tom Parkin of the NDP, Deb Hutton of the Progressive Conservatives and Omar Khan of the Ontario Liberals offer their analysis on the unfolding campaign. This time, Global News commentator Matt Gurney gets their assessment of the final televised debate. 

MORE: Political panel: The first 10 days of the Ontario election campaign

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GURNEY: As of Sunday night, the debates are behind us — at least the organized, official ones. The leaders have all had their last chance to show how they stack up against each other. The received wisdom seems to be that Ford lost and Wynne won — but I’m not sure I buy that. If you’re Doug Ford, a strong Wynne showing is probably something you were praying for, as a means of maybe wresting a few wayward Liberal votes away from the apparently surging NDP.

So how do you guys see it? I’m not interested in who “won” the debate, per se, so much as I am knowing how you guys think it’ll change the race (if you think it will at all).

READ MORE: Party leaders back on campaign trail falling final TV debate

HUTTON: I disagree that Ford lost the debate. In fact, quite the opposite. Both Wynne and Ford were strong and spoke to their core base. Conversely, Horwath needed to close the deal with voters who are shopping around and she failed to do that. She was far better in the first televised debate. She was unnecessarily abrasive and as a result, her performance distracted from her message.

However, I’m not sure anything will change in the polling numbers. Wynne may have cauterized the bleeding but is unlikely to have attracted more votes. Ford solidified his core support but probably didn’t appeal to voters who aren’t already with him. And those who have parked with Horwath over the past week or so may return to the undecided camp after the debate.

The next 10 days will be crucial for Ford and Horwath. Ford needs to get back to his key policy planks that speak directly to the electorate’s desire for change. And he has to continue to reinforce the radical and risky NDP platform.

Horwath is going to have to prove that she has a team behind her that is cabinet-worthy. And that’s going to be a big challenge.

READ MORE: NDP lags, PCs retake lead in Ontario election after final debate: Ipsos poll

KHAN: Kathleen Wynne did precisely what she needed to do, coming up with a decisive win and setting the stage for a three-way fight to the finish.
The premier’s defiantly candid defence of her record and her plan stood out from the canned political-speak coming from both Doug Ford and Andrea Horwath. And she stuck to that tone, speaking directly to voters in an honest, unfiltered way.
It was a passionate, intelligent and deeply personal performance that virtually screamed the word “Leader.”  

The signature exchange of the night came when Wynne took Horwath to task for her unwillingness to stand up for the public interest and say “no” to public-sector unions. Horwath simply couldn’t explain why she would never use back-to-work legislation to deal with disruptive, long-running strikes. Horwath looked shaken, unsure of herself and unready. For those thinking about voting NDP, that exchange will cause them to think again.

Ford was barely present and sounded like a kid who decided to read the Coles notes for a book report. He had no explanation for why he hasn’t released a costed platform and repeatedly showed he isn’t suitable to serve as premier of this province.

The premier’s debate outing is the kind of performance that can kickstart a comeback. Voters are now looking at the race through a new set of eyes. Never count Kathleen Wynne out.

PARKIN: Debates are funny things. What you watch takes on a different hue after you’ve slept on it.
At first, we’re all distracted by the noise. But then you start to focus about the moments that really matter. I think there were two.
The first big moment was when Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne flipped the bird to the people of Ontario. Wynne told Ontarians that it was all our fault; that we just don’t like her. And then she listed a few of the things she recently did when she saw Andrea Horwath coming up in the rear-view mirror. Of course, that outflank-to-the-left strategy has now turned into a union-bash-from-the-right strategy. But Wynne didn’t mention the Sudbury scandal, “stretch-goals,” lying about Hydro One privatization — and the list goes on. The Liberal Party is broken and needs to go to the repair shop.
The other big moment was when Andrea Horwath said: “Mr. Ford, where is your plan?” It was a clean hit which Doug Ford had no response but to smile even harder.
These are the takeaway moments.
Horwath was energetic and aggressive, calling out Ford on his numerous falsehoods, exaggerations and bombast. Ford looked terrible. Andrea looked great. IMO, a big Ford fail, one more Horwath step ahead.

READ MORE: Wynne, Ford target Horwath in last leaders’ debate before June 7 election

GURNEY: Honestly, I thought the only one who turned in a performance that could possibly have brought in new voters was Wynne, but even that’s only a theory. The reality is that I think she’s done (Sorry, Omar — if I’m one of the many who’s counted Wynne out too early I’ll admit it to you, live on the air of my show). It’s unfair, in a way, that a good debate performance by her would come too late to matter, but that’s honestly how I see it. Wynne’s a great campaigner but I think she’s simply outgunned by the desire for change. A week ago, that change momentum seemed to be aligning behind Horwath, but the current crop of polls — while by no means showing the NDP are tanking — are seemingly showing that the NDP momentum hasn’t been sustained and that this is a pretty tight NDP vs. PC race. I guess we’ll see what the next week brings, but I think I’m with Deb — I don’t expect any huge swings, at least none that relate to the debate. Let’s see what comes next.

READ MORE: Did the NDP make a $7-billion mistake in its platform?

HUTTON: Tom (Parkin) is right in one respect; when you think about the substance of the debate the next day without all the noise, some moments stand out as really important.

Take for example, Horwath’s policy to never legislate striking public-sector workers back to work. She had no answer for Ontario families who will be inconvenienced by a transit or teachers strike; no answer for post-secondary students who might lose their year due to a strike. It’s a damaging policy that will cost families and the provincial coffers dearly.

Another key moment was when Ford asked voters to think about who they would be most comfortable handing their wallet to. It summed up the election in many ways: do you want more spending (and the higher taxes that go with it) or do you want the kind of fiscal sanity and careful budgeting that you practise in your own home?  

I continue to believe that this election is, at its core, a desire for change in every way. Ford is change. Horwath is more of what we’ve seen under Kathleen Wynne. I say let’s focus on substance in the last 10 days. Won’t matter for Wynne (I’m sorry/not sorry too, Omar). But the choice between the other two leaders and their plans couldn’t be more clear.

KHAN: I’m sorry/not sorry for refusing to buy into the two-horse argument. All we know so far coming out of the debate is that both NDP and PC momentum has stalled. Most of the polls out today only partially included calls that occurred after the debate was aired.

My prediction is that as polls continue to come out this week that were wholly conducted post-debate, we will see three things: Ford and the PCs stagnating in the mid-30s; the NDP losing support; and the Liberals on a slow but steady upward trajectory.

If this plays out, we will have a tight three-way race and that’s when the bench strength of Liberal candidates will come into play. We have seen radical candidates from both the NDP and the Conservatives. On the NDP side, we have seen candidates denigrate our veterans while on the PC side, we have seen some candidates make remarks that could be construed as both homo- and Islamophobic.

Contrast this with a strong Liberal bench including experienced stalwarts and highly-regarded newcomers and you’ll see these candidates provide a real advantage in riding after riding in the remaining 10 days of this campaign.

PARKIN: There are three important groups that can prevent a return to the education strikes and classroom turmoil of the Conservatives. Three groups that can stop a man who thinks it’s a breakthrough to say climate change is caused by humans. Three groups struggling with student debt and unfair childcare costs. These groups can make Ontario a place of progress and stability amid this global populist outbreak.

Two groups are traditional Liberal and Green voters. They have a tough question in these final days: is my first loyalty to our province and planet? Or my party? To you, Andrea Horwath offers a reassuring voice and a costed plan that fits your values. A Horwath government will fix Medicare and extend it with Pharmacare. She will address affordability and climate change. We will be leaders again. Liberal and Green voters: keep your sign on the lawn. Make that donation to your traditional party — they’ll be back. But this time, lend Andrea your ballot. It’s important.

The third group is young people. It is critical that they vote en masse. If they do, Andrea will stop Doug Ford. Please read Andrea’s plan. Its 100 pages map out what a Horwath government will do. We should have started doing these things long ago. Let’s start now.

Watch below: Highlights from the last televised debate

GURNEY: Well, guys, we’ll have one more of these before the vote and then I’d imagine one after to bat cleanup. I’ll simply say this — it’s been a more interesting campaign than I expected, and I’d imagine there’s a surprise or two left to come.

HUTTON: Ten days is a lifetime in politics. And we’ve not yet talked about the ad campaigns that often do the heavy lifting for the parties. But if Ford sticks to his plan and contrasts it with the tax-and-spend dreams of his two opponents, this election can and should result in a PC majority.

KHAN: Ontarians have decided who they shouldn’t vote for. That’s Ford. It’s now time to decide who you ought to vote for and there is only one responsible choice … the experienced, pragmatic and progressive Ontario Liberal team.

PARKIN: During the debate, Doug Ford said a lot of things that weren’t true. And Andrea Horwath repeated an observation that is so incredibly true: on June 7, we don’t have to settle between bad and worse.

READ MORE: Ontario Liberal, PC and NDP leaders square off in final TV debate

Matt Gurney is host of The Exchange with Matt Gurney on Global News Radio 640 Toronto and a columnist for Global News. Tom Parkin is a former NDP adviser and a political commentator with a social democratic point of view. Deb Hutton was a senior adviser to former Ontario premier Mike Harris. Omar Khan spent over a decade working for several Liberal cabinet ministers at Queen’s Park and is a vice-president of the Ontario Liberal Party. 

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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