As the first week of the Ontario election race nears its end, we're beginning to get a sense of how the party campaigns are shaping up and it appears the incumbent Liberals have been more prepared.
Premier Kathleen Wynne, forced to dissolve her minority government after the NDP withdrew its support over the new budget, so far has been able to stick to a game plan that tries to tie Tim Hudak's Conservatives to their widely-resented Ottawa counterparts.
Both the Conservatives and New Democrats appeared to stumble out of the gate. There's plenty of time to repair any damage before the June 12 vote, but the recent Quebec election campaign illustrates how important first impressions are to voters. The Parti Quebecois never really recovered from its initial gaffes that put sovereignty in the forefront.
But the federal Conservative government handed Wynne a gift after Friday's election call, when Finance Minister Joe Oliver criticized the spending-heavy Ontario budget as "the route to economic decline."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, meanwhile, criticized her government's proposed provincial retirement plan, labelling it an "unnecessary tax hike," CBC News reported.
"It is interesting to me that both have jumped into the Ontario election," Wynne responded, adding Harper appeared to be "taking over the Conservative voice in the Ontario election."
Federal Tory kibitzing is allowing Wynne to make the campaign narrative about how the Conservatives have damaged the Ontario economy, and to draw a connection with Hudak's party.
She did it again Thursday, telling an Ottawa audience the system of federal transfers is harming the province, that the government is not doing enough to help develop mineral resources in northern Ontario's Ring of Fire and is not dealing with the national pension crisis, the Globe and Mail reported.
Rather than try to justify her budget's ambitious spending plans, Wynne attacked the federal Conservatives' notion of small government.
“I don’t have to accept that small, narrow vision of what this country is and I don’t accept it. I reject it categorically,” she said, according to the Globe. “I am going to, at every turn, argue for a different vision for this country and for this province’s relationship with Canada.”
And Wynne made the link to the provincial Conservatives clear.
“How can Ontarians trust Tim Hudak to confront Stephen Harper when he shares so many of his values, ideals and policies?” she asked.
Hudak, of course, has to contend with the legacy of former Conservative premier Mike Harris's tight-fisted regime, and the Harper government featured a number of Ontario Tories, most notably late finance minister Jim Flaherty.
For his part, Hudak is focusing on the need to create jobs in a province that has seen its once vibrant manufacturing sector hollowed out in the last decade. Both he and NDP leader Andrea Horwath think Wynne is promising the moon.
"They are going to promise you all kinds of things, each and every day that they know in their hearts they can’t afford," Hudak said Wednesday, according to CBC News.
"That’s not me. I’m the guy with the turnaround plan to get Ontario working again."
But the Conservative leader still seems to be recovering from photo-op at a music recording studio that went horribly wrong Monday, when Hudak resolutely dodged repeated questions about his opposition to a provincial program that supported the industry.
National Post columnist John Ivison slammed Hudak for sticking resolutely to his talking points and not being well prepared enough to simply answer the question.
The Liberals legacy is waste, mismanagement and corruption, he wrote Wednesday, and voters will see through the party's spending promises.
"The recent Liberal budget, and its economically illiterate desire to spend an indebted province to prosperity, provides an easy mark for the Progressive Conservatives," Ivison wrote.
"Mr. Hudak simply has to close the deal and to do that he has to be a serious politician, with serious policies, who levels with Ontario voters and tells them the piper must be paid."
Hudak's team said the Conservative campaign kicks off in earnest when it reveals its plan to create a million jobs.
But, as Ivison pointed out "it's never too early to blow a campaign."
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