May 11, 2018

Northern Debate Analysis

Authored by:

Jeremy Bruce

Jeremy Bruce

Kristin Wilton

Kristin Wilton

Meredith Logan

Meredith Logan

Kristin Wilton: Ford a little more comfortable this time around?

Doug Ford seemed much more comfortable in Northern Ontario than downtown Toronto during the second provincial leader's debate. While Monday’s debate was a slow start for Ford, today he came out swinging, debating issues that focused on health care, resource development and transit, among others.

Up to this point in the pre-writ and campaign period (and as evidenced in Monday's debate), Ford has been laser focused on Liberal rival Kathleen Wynne. Today's message was decidedly different, with his focus shifting dramatically to rest squarely on Andrea Horwath. Ford spent much of his time attacking the NDP, specifically with comments an NDP candidate made which are viewed as anti-mining.

Targeting attacks on the NDP may also make more sense up North than in other jurisdictions as Northern Ontario has traditionally voted NDP, and may pose a threat to the PCs as Horwath gains momentum in the polls.

While viewers did see a more comfortable Ford during this debate, his off-message comment on immigration may have started a fire that will follow him throughout the remainder of the campaign. Ford voiced concerns about attracting newcomers to remote parts of Ontario, saying the province should be taking care of its own first. This left Wynne and Horwath astonished, giving them just the material they were looking for and headlines the PC party did not want.

While most seats in the North are currently held by the Liberals and the NDP, the PCs are polling well. A surprise byelection win in Sault Ste. Marie last year has also emboldened them about their changes, despite not having much representation there in the last 30 years. There are 11 seats up for grabs, so in order for the PCs to secure any ground in the North, they will have to keep these off-message comments to a minimum.

Jeremy Bruce: Horwath goes on the charm offensive

Fresh off a strong performance in Monday’s debate (and a bounce in the polls that has moved her ahead of Kathleen Wynne by 2 points), Andrea Horwath kept the positivity train rolling heading into Friday’s Northern Debate.

While Wynne was front and centre on Monday, Horwath was front and centre in the action today, squaring toe-to-toe with Doug Ford on a host of issues from mining, to gas prices, to northern rail. Ford, who has been the presumptive front-runner in this election since winning the leadership back in March, appeared to shift the focus of his attacks towards Horwath in this debate. Given the historical weakness of the Liberal Party in Northern Ontario, this may have been purely a short-term strategic move. But if Ford continues to increase the volume of his attacks on Horwath going into next week, it may be an indication that the PC leader views Horwath as his greatest impediment in the path to the premiership.

Horwath closed by asking voters to imagine a government that brings change for the better, reiterating the NDP’s promises to implement pharmacare, improve dental care, and control northern gas prices. While she has gained ground in the last week, Horwath will need her message of positive change to resonate with voters in a big way if she is to make up the gap on Ford.

However, if Horwath can maintain the positivity, keep up the momentum, and stay in the spotlight, she may be able to position herself as the best alternative choice to a Ford government for progressive voters, which could make all the difference on election day.

Meredith Logan: Liberals on the defensive

Compared to the last debate, it seemed like Premier Wynne took a back seat this afternoon and enjoyed a bit of a breather.

Ford focused primarily at taking swipes at Andrea Horwath although Wynne did have to defend her record on economic development in Northern Ontario and that her government considered the region as an “afterthought”.

The Liberal government has long promised to develop the region last year and had even gone so far as securing an agreement with three First Nations to start road construction to mining sites rich in chromite used to make stainless steel. Wynne defended her record by saying that conversations around the ring of fire and it’s development are taking time because they are engaging properly with the First Nations.

Wynne did turn on the NDP at one point to insinuate that one of their local candidates had advocated for a cut to teacher’s salaries. With the Northern debate over, the leaders each have full days of campaigning ahead of them:

-          Ford is off to a meet and greet in Parry Sound, followed by a trip to Barrie;'
-          Horwath is headed to campaign in Sudbury; and,
-          Kathleen Wynne is on her way back to the GTA to speak at the opening of the Toronto International Film Festival

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