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BLIZZARD

Leaders optimistic about next year at Queen's Park

By Christina Blizzard, Special to the Sun

NDP leader Andrea Horwath (L), Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne and PC leader Tim Hudak. (REUTERS)

NDP leader Andrea Horwath (L), Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne and PC leader Tim Hudak. (REUTERS)

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TORONTO - 

It’s like political speed dating.

At the end of a rambunctious and at times jaw-dropping session of parliament, Toronto Sun Bureau Chief Antonella Artuso and I sprinted through three interviews with Premier Kathleen Wynne, PC leader Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath of the NDP, bumping into reporters from other news outlets as we arrived and left each office.

In the second-floor premier’s office, I asked Wynne if she planned to bring back the legislature after the Christmas break.

There’s a school of thought that says she’d be wise to prorogue parliament. Shut it down and put an end to those pesky committees on Ornge that have become an ongoing embarrassment.

Instead of bringing back the legislature, she could go straight to an election.

Will the house be coming back, I asked?

“Oh yes,” she said. “We’ll be back.”

MPPs will return after the Family Day holiday in February.

“We have two byelections and we’ll make a determination on when to hold those byelections,” she told me.

Two seats — Niagara Falls and Thornhill — are up for grabs after long-time Liberal Kim Craitor and former Tory finance critic Peter Shurman quit.

It’s been a hectic 10 months since Wynne took over from Dalton McGuinty in February.

She’s had to deal with the fallout from his disastrous decisions. The $1.1 billion to scrap two gas plants? The Ornge scandal? OPG mismanagement? Blame McGuinty.

Was she angry that her first year was marred by his bad actions, I asked?

“I was part of the government. I was very aware when I decided to run for the leadership the things that we were going to deal with,” she said, although she admitted there were some land mines.

“Some things have come up since I’ve been in office that I wasn’t aware of,” she said.

On last week’s OPG scandal, she said her government will take control of its “culture.”

“We have watched government after government not be able to change the culture at that organization,” she said. “I’ve been very clear that we’re going to change it.”

Your ink-stained scribes trudged one floor up in search of Hudak.

He was in a festive mood and offered rum and eggnog. Antonella demurred. I took a virgin eggnog.

Didn’t want the integrity commissioner claiming I’d been bought off by free booze.

Hudak’s re-inventing himself.

Polls tell him he’s not the most likable leader, so he’s positioning himself as the Buckley’s cough syrup of political choices.

It might taste terrible, but it’s good for you.

Hudak’s had a tough time selling his right to work policy to voters. Recent massive losses of manufacturing jobs at places like Heinz and Kellogg’s have given a boost to his argument that we’re falling behind and need to kick-start the economy.

“I think there’s a very clear choice. If you think everything’s OK in this province, then you’ve got a couple of choices in Kathleen Wynne and Andrea Horwath.

“But if you think we can actually get Ontario back on the right track and turn this province around, we can get less government and more jobs outside government, then look to me,” he said.

Wynne and Horwath will be promising all things to all people, he said.

“That’s not the kind of leadership we need right now. I think it’s important to have a leader who’s respected as someone who can get Ontario moving again,” he said.

Recent revelations by the auditor general about massive waste and overspending at Ontario Power Generation support Hudak’s claim that the public sector is bloated, overfed and needs a diet to get it under control.

We move on to the NDP leader’s office, where we find Horwath performing a high wire act.

They hold the balance of power in this minority parliament, a heady position for a party Horwath has brought back from its political grave.

On one hand, she’s squeezing Wynne’s Liberals for every last cent of taxpayer cash.

On the other, every time a new scandal blows up, she’s asked why she’s propping them up.

Why doesn’t she pull the plug?

“When people elected a minority parliament back in 2011, they gave us some marching orders and I think we have respected that decision and we took it seriously,” Horwath said.

“We worked hard to get things in the first budget and the second budget that will make life better for folk,” she said, pointing to her insurance rate rollback as one of those victories.

Parse her words and you can hear her election platform.

She’s not a wild-eyed socialist. She’s a pragmatic champion for middle-class pocketbook issues.

“I think we’ve been able to demonstrate to Ontarians in this role we’ve been given that we’re pretty serious about practical ways of making life better for the people of this province,” she said.

She points out that NDP governments across the country have run fewer deficit budgets and those deficits were smaller in proportion to gross domestic product (GDP).

Could the NDP be to the right of the Liberals?

There you have it: Tough talk from Wynne, strong medicine from Hudak — and a tightrope walk from Horwath.

 


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