THUNDER BAY -- The Ontario Progressive Conservative party says it’s unfortunate organizers of the Northern Ontario leaders’ debate chose a date that worked for some parties, but not all.
In an unsigned release issued on Wednesday, party officials said they wanted leader Tim Hudak to participate, but the May 26 date OK’d by organizers conflicted with other campaign stops that couldn’t be altered.
“Given the important issues that face the North, it was our hope that there would have been an equal opportunity for all parties to communicate their plans for the North. We were led to believe there was a desire to have that comprehensive discussion,” the release states.
Both Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath accepted the May 26 invitation over the Victoria Day weekend.
Hudak was a vocal critic in 2011 when then premier Dalton McGuinty was a no-show at the inaugural Northern leaders’ debate.
Organizers, which include the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association, the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities and the Northwestern and Northeastern Chambers of Commerce, said they floated several options to the respective campaigns when the writ dropped on May 7 and repeated the request on May 16, giving party officials three additional days to accept.
The PCs missed the deadline.
“On May 20 I received an email saying they would like to have another date offered, but did not provide a date as to when they would prefer to have it,” said Kristen Oliver, NOMA’s executive director.
“Since May 26 was the date we continued to offer and it was accepted by the other two parties, we notified (Hudak’s) campaign office that we could not provide another date due to venue scheduling.”
Derek Parks, running for the Conservatives in Thunder Bay-Superior North, said it’s disappointing, but understandable.
“I think it should be made clear to the people of Northwestern Ontario that Mr. Hudak did want to attend that meeting. NOMA decided to schedule a date and time that was suitable for Kathleen Wynne. We were unable to make the 26th,” Parks said.
“Then they started to broadcast because they had Kathleen Wynne the debate would be the 26th, so other dates were no longer available. They agreed that they were looking at three dates and arbitrarily chose one and kind of stuck Mr. Hudak out in the open, without being able to attend that date.”
Harold Wilson, the Conservative candidate in Thunder Bay-Atikokan agreed.
“That was the only date that was given and there’s a full schedule of things that needed to get done,” Wilson said.
“So I’m disappointed, but I quite understand.”
Kenora NDP candidate Sarah Campbell said it's not surprising.
“I think it speaks volumes about Tim Hudak’s attitude toward the North and northern issues that he won’t free up his schedule for an hour-long debate in Thunder Bay,” she said. “Hudak just doesn’t care about the North.”
Parks said Hudak has assured him he will make a campaign stop in Northwestern Ontario at some point between now and the June 12 election.