We are just over two weeks away from election day and the race for Ontario’s next Premier is heating up. Or at least that is what each of the party leaders except for PC Leader Doug Ford had us believing during Monday night’s leaders’ debate. It was an eventful hour that included some heated exchanges and strategically placed reminders of past scandals. It also involved some fierce and pointed questions in response to which answers felt a bit diluted. But with any debate, there is often more to be gleaned from body language, from the length of pauses between the words and from what is not said.
Below are five things we learned from Monday night’s debate:
1. The debate format worked.
In recent times we have witnessed election debates moving from civil and informative to screaming matches that often pitch personalities against each other rather than encouraging meaningful discussions on policies and what each party sees as important for the future. Monday night felt like an exception to that trend. Steve Paikin moderating his eighth leaders’ debate and Althia Raj moderating her second leaders’ debate were the true triumphs. Steve and Althia enforced the time limits and ensured that the debate, while heated, remained civil with all four party leaders being provided equal opportunity to address each other and the voters. The people of Ontario were able to see a debate on ideas that provided the opportunity for the leaders to differentiate themselves and outline their vision for the future of the province.
2. Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner seemed to be the winner of the debate.
Often challenging PC Leader Doug Ford with unsettling questions that in some instances had him looking a bit shaken, Schreiner established his presence well among Ontarians. Though, some would argue that Schreiner’s great performance might actually help Ford come election day by taking a few votes away from the Liberals and the NDP. The Green Party is not expected to make significant gains in the Legislature as their leader currently holds the party’s only seat, one he is seemingly going to retain come June 2. Only time will tell if they are able to translate Monday night’s momentum into more seats.
3. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath did not seem to seize her opportunity.
While she did get a number of campaign talking points across during the debate, it felt as if Horwath failed to mount a hard-hitting attack during one of the many heated discussions involving PC Leader Doug Ford and Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca. Maybe it was in part to demonstrate her willingness to take a pragmatic approach and position herself as a Premier that will listen to the people of Ontario rather than speak over them.
4. PC Leader Doug Ford weathered the storm.
Ford entered the debate as the front runner with the most to lose. The real question was whether he could endure the attacks from Horwath, Del Duca and Schreiner and keep his cool. The PC’s plan, while simple, could have proven difficult to execute given Ford’s willingness to speak his mind and go off script. Well, Doug Ford succeeded in doing that with humorous remarks while sticking to campaign talking points.
5. The NDP and the Liberals spent a little too much time campaigning against each other.
Beyond the obvious advantage that comes with being an incumbent government, the PC Party has another ace up their sleeves—sitting back and letting the NDP and Liberals squabble with each other. Ultimately, it seemed as if they spent too much time convincing each other’s voter demographic to make the switch from NDP to Liberal and vice versa, instead of having any real impact on Ford Nation. While both parties want to win government by being the top alternative for defeating the PC Party, based on current polling, the Liberals and NDP are also fighting one another for Official Opposition.
So, what is next?
It will be interesting to see how much Monday night’s debate and each of the leaders’ performances will impact polling numbers over the next few days. According to current polling, the PCs have a steady lead over both the NDP and the Liberals with 36.9 per cent support while the Green Party continues trailing behind with 4.9 per cent support. The Liberals remain slightly ahead of the NDP with 28.0 per cent support and the NDP 23.7 per cent support.
Advanced voting begins tomorrow at specified locations in electoral districts across the province. For more information on advanced voting, finding an advanced voting location near you and an alternative method to in-person voting, you may visit the Elections Ontario online or call 1-888-668-8683.
——— Brianna Rennie is a former Coordinator at NATIONAL Public Relations