THUNDER BAY -- An official election call appears to be the last thing standing in the way of a provincial leaders’ debate in the north.
Both NDP leader Andrea Horwath and Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak say they would gladly accept a challenge issued by Premier Kathleen Wynne earlier this week to contest a campaign trail debate in Northern Ontario.
Appearing in the city to announce a plan to improve highway safety, Horwath said she believes the challenge is an attempt by Wynne to make voters forget the refusal of the Liberals to participate in a similar debate during the last election race.
Three years ago then-premier Dalton McGuinty declined an opportunity to take on his two opponents in Thunder Bay.
“It made me giggle when she issued the challenge. I just laughed,” Horwath told local media on Saturday.
“I have no qualms whatsoever about taking on the Premier and the Liberals on their poor, poor record in Northwestern Ontario and Northern Ontario overall.”
Hudak released a statement on Thursday shortly after the Premier issued her challenge, saying he doesn’t think there even needs to be an election for there to be merit to having a debate.
“Why wait for an election? I will be in Northern Ontario in a couple of weeks and hope to see Kathleen Wynne and Andrea Horwath there,” he stated.
The question of whether the axe will fall on the Wynne government is expected to be decided in the coming days, as the Liberals are scheduled to table their spring budget on May 1.
The Liberals, who hold 48 of the 107 seats in the provincial legislature, will need the backing of either party to survive the confidence motion that is tied to a budget.
When Wynne issued her challenge at the Northern Ontario Municipal Association meeting in Fort Frances earlier this week, she expressed hope her government could get the budget passed.
“I hope the other two parties do the right thing and support our budget. I hope they will put the public good ahead of their partisanship. But if the other parties don`t support this plan and instead send the province to an election, then I will call on the other party leaders to come to the North and discuss these issues at a Northern Leaders Debate,” Wynne stated.
When asked, Horwath declined to show her hand and give any indication on whether the NDP will provide life support to the minority government, but had a scathing review for the party that has formed the Ontario government for the past 11 years.
“We have made a commitment to review that budget,” she said.
“We know that people are frustrated and angry with the waste of precious tax dollars. People are seeing this government waste money hand over fist.”