The NDP's Andrea Horwath and the Liberal's Kathleen Wynne made quite a bit of hay last week about Tory Tim Hudak's refusal (or inability, depending on who's talking) to take part in Monday's northern leader's debate in Thunder Bay.
Both leaders comported themselves reasonably well in the debate forum (and well they should considering their political experience). As far as political theatre goes, leaders' debates are a lot of sound and fury, and not much else.
The Tory leader said scheduling prevented him from taking part — the same excuse Dalton McGuinty made during the last election for not attending a northern debate — but that the North is important to his party, regardless of his ability to attend a staged argument.
Let's call a spade a spade though: Hudak had nothing to gain by taking part in the event, so strategically it makes more sense for him to focus on those parts of the province where he can make some headway on the Grits.
No offence to Tory candidates across Northern Ontario, but the region — save the anomaly that is North Bay — is pretty nicely carved up red and orange, with the NDP comfortably holding the northeast and the Liberals having a healthy hold on the northwest.
All that being said, the debate — entertaining as it might be — is a bit of a farce anyway, a kind of a pat on the head to northern voters, a way to say, “Yes, you really are important to us.” It is, as we said earlier, theatre. From them, we learn nothing about how a leader governs, only how they perform. And that is a key difference.
No, if we want to make an informed choice, we must decide if we're voting candidate or platform. A good candidate is just one sailor among many in a leader's crew; the platform is the ship in which they're all sailing.
And if we look at the Good Ship Tory, the Good Ship Liberal and the Good Ship New Democrat, we find something quite curious — from our reading, it doesn't appear any of the parties expect to form a majority government.
In their broad, something-for-everyone, costs-be-damned quality, the Liberal and NDP platforms are virtually indistinguishable. Hudak appears to be channelling his energies toward traditional, staunch Tory supporters, without working too hard to broaden his appeal. Perhaps, he's attempting to solidify his position now, in advance of a majority attempt in 2018.
All parties say they have a plan to eliminate Ontario's $12.5-billion deficit, and each is trying to outdo the other by how quickly they can do it.
Does anyone really believe the Tories can kill that deficit in two years, even by cutting 100,000 jobs? Does anyone really believe the NDP can complete the four-laning of Hwy 69 in two years — 100 kilometres of road through Canadian Shield rock and muskeg in 730 days?
The Liberal platform, released Sunday, looks much like the Liberal budget the NDP and the Tories couldn't support, which looked much like an NDP budget, promising to spend more than a $130 billion, but don't worry where they'll find the money, it's fully costed, they say.
While the NDP and the Liberals attempt to draw voters from beyond their typical supporters by promising something for almost everyone and his dog, the Tories are sticking to their guns, vowing to cut 100,000 well-paying, well-taxed jobs, while creating a million new ones of variable quality.
It's as if none of them is truly serious about this race, making all sorts of grandiose promises simply to get the election out of the way and maximize what support they can, likely knowing none has a snowball's chance of forming a majority.
As voters, all we can do is evaluate the merits of those promises (or lack thereof), cast a ballot and let the chips fall where they may. Because the day after June 12, Queen's Park is likely to look much as it does now.