LIVE BLOG: Ontario leaders face off for first election debate

Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne, centre, Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford, left, and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath take part in the Ontario Leaders debate in Toronto on May 7, 2018. This is the first of three debates scheduled before the provincial election on June 7, 2018. Photo from The Canadian Press.

It’s finally time for Ontario’s political leaders to go toe-to-toe for the top job in the province.

Starting Monday at 6 p.m. ET, the leaders of Ontario’s three main political parties kicked off the provincial election campaign with the first of three televised debates.

Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne, Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford and New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath will took part in the event, which is being broadcasted by City TV.

The debate is a chance for the leaders to share their vision for the province and how they plan to get there. It also provides an opportunity for voters to see who’s most prepared to lead Ontario.

But will these politicians appeal to the issues Ontarians seem to care most about?

The debate began with a questions about de-escalation training for police and carding by police, resulting in a lively conversation on the current government’s legislation on police training, funding and accountability of officers.

Ford announced he intends to invest $5 billion on “rapid transit” in the GTA, including relief lines, while Wynne responded by saying transit should be built to supply the whole province, not just the GTA.

Ford called Wynne “disingenuous” on multiple occasions and asked her when she “lost her way.”

“What I believe is government exists to do the things that people can’t do themselves,” Wynne said in response. “And I don’t understand how cutting actually helps people.”

In a particularly interesting event in the discussion, Ford turned to Wynne and said she has “a nice smile on her face” before she confronts him. The premier responded with “you do too.”

When the topic of Hydro One was brought into the open discussion, Horwath took the opportunity to compare the Liberal and PC parties future plans.

“The electricity system under Mr. Ford and Ms. Wynne will stay in private hands and operate under the interest of private shareholders,” Horwath said.

Although both Wynne and Horwath asked Ford what exactly would be included in his promised 4 per cent budget cut, the provincial PC leader did not provide specifics.

In her closing statement, Wynne said Ford’s perspective is about “cutting” while Horwath’s position is “magical thinking.”

“This election’s our opportunity to do something completely different,” Horwath said in her final statement. “Together we can change this province for the better.”

“After 15 year of mismanagements, scandals and waste of your hard earned tax dollars, the Liberal government is desperate to hold on to power,” Ford said. “You know me, I’m for the little guy.”

Yahoo Canada conducted an online poll in recent weeks where more than 7,000 voted on the most important issue leading up to the June 7 election.

Here are the top five issues as of Monday, according to the poll results:

  1. Health care (25%)
  2. Government accountability (16%)
  3. Provincial debt (15%)
  4. Taxes (14%)
  5. Economic growth (8%)

A recent poll of 1,010 eligible voters conducted on May 3 and 4 by Pollara Strategic Insights for Maclean’s shows Ford’s PC party comfortably in the lead with 40 per cent support, followed by the NDP at 30 per cent and the Liberals at 23 per cent.

According to poll averages compiled by CBC News’ Poll Tracker, Ford has the most to lose heading into the election campaign. As of Monday, the PCs sit at 42.7 per cent support, followed by the Liberals at 25.8 per cent, the NDP at 24.9 per cent and the Greens at 5.1 per cent.

Projections from CBC News suggest the PCs have a 92.2 per cent of winning a majority.

Ford is a relative newcomer to provincial politics. He does not hold a seat in the Ontario Legislature. Before narrowly winning the PC leadership race in March, Ford’s only political experience was as a Toronto city councillor from 2010 to 2014.

Wynne has served as the premier of Ontario since 2013. She was first elected as an MPP in Ontario in 2003, serving as a minister for five departments. Wynne has been re-elected three times as an MPP since entering provincial politics.

Horwath was first elected as an MPP in 2004 after being elected to city council in Hamilton, Ont., in 1997. She is the longest-serving provincial party leader in Ontario. Horwath was chosen to lead her party in 2009.

Follow along with our live blog below for the latest updates from the debate.

With files from Elisabetta Bianchini