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Strategic Advice as Leaders Square Off In Debate

 

ONW: Tonight’s the big debate. What does Dalton McGuinty have to do to win?  


Bob Richardson, Liberal Strategist:

Keep doing what he is doing. He continues to make steady progress in this election throughout the province as the Forum poll noted this past weekend. A relentless focus on jobs, healthcare and education combined with experience in difficult times is the ticket!

 

Blair McCreadie, PC Strategist:

Unlike last week's Northern debate, he first needs to show up!  In my view, we can expect three things from Dalton McGuinty.  First, given the Liberal government's poor economic record, McGuinty can be expected to come out hard on health care and education. Second, we can also expect lots of fear mongering, as McGuinty tries to build a risk proposition around the other two leaders. Third, we can expect him to adopt a patronizing and condescending tone as he tries to accomplish point two.


Michael Rosenstock, NDP Strategist:

The same Forum poll that shows he's in danger of losing his own seat? McGuinty will have to try the opposite approach of his last 4 years in government. That means not dismissing real concerns about job losses, affordability, and access to reliable health care.

 

Camille Labchuk, Green Strategist:

Dalton McGuinty has to convince Ontarians:

a) To ignore his government's inconsistent record.
b) To believe him when he says that this time will be different. It's a tough message to sell, especially if he gets hammered on his history of pretending the environment is a priority, but only doing the right thing when there's political points to be scored. Case in point: McGuinty cancels the Mississauga gas power plant in an attempt to hold on to the riding. Meanwhile, he could care less about the gas power plant in Holland Marsh, in an area the Liberals can't win, despite its location within the protected Greenbelt region.

 

ONW: What does Hudak have to do to win overall? Has McGuinty just handed the PC leader a stick to beat him with by cancelling the Mississauga power plant?

 

Bob Richardson, Liberal Strategist:

The Mississauga power plant is a local issue. I find it hard to believe that it will be a province-wide issue. Liberals are strong in Mississauga, supported by Mayor Hazel McCallion because she is opposed to the PC's property tax hike. Tim Hudak has failed to connect with the electorate because his campaign team has him running around talking about issues Ontarians aren't focused on. He needs to significantly revamp his message to get back into this race.

 

Blair McCreadie, PC Strategist:

A majority of voters watching the debate tonight are looking for change. Tim Hudak will demonstrate that he is the person who best understands the challenges that Ontario families are having after eight years of Dalton McGuinty. Tonight's debate will showcase why Ontario can't afford another four years of McGuinty. The Mississauga announcement shows that the Liberal leader is making it up as he goes along. Charles Sousa and other area MPPs have sat on their hands and said nothing as construction of this plant has gone ahead. Now that the Liberals are at risk in Peel Region, there is an announcement 12 days before an election. This smacks of desperation, in my view.

 

Michael Rosenstock, NDP Strategist:

Dalton McGuinty's last minute decision on the power plant is made less credible by his past rhetoric on the issues: targeting "NIMBYism", saying he's the only one with a plan for serious times, etc.

 

Camille Labchuk, Green Strategist:

If Dalton McGuinty has opened himself up to a metaphorical flogging, it certainly won't be Tim Hudak who wields the stick. Hudak scarcely even pretends to care about the environment, and has no problem building more gas plants and deep-sixing clean energy projects. The stick McGuinty will be beaten with in the debates is his eight years of majority rule in Ontario - there's no one else to blame but his government. Unfortunately for Hudak, his party's record is just as bad. He needs to convince voters of his competence to manage the economy, which isn't easy to do when economists have been calling him out for attaching misleading dollar amounts to his campaign promises. He'll undoubtedly be attacked over the PC’s history of cuts to programs that help the most vulnerable.

 

ONW: Put yourself in Andrea Horwath's place and tell me what you'd do in the debate. What would be your strategy?


Bob Richardson, Liberal Strategist:

Andrea Horwath has both advantages and disadvantages in this debate. Advantage is straight exposure (people still by and large don't know her) and low expectations (she is a rookie leader.) Disadvantage is when progressive voters notice they have no environmental policies, are weak on issues that affect college and university students and their platform contains a nine billion dollar tax hike.

 

Blair McCreadie, PC Strategist:

Ms. Horwath may actually have the most to gain from tonight's debate. Horwath and the NDP need to focus on four things. First, they need a renewed commitment to Horwath's debate preparation, as her performance in Thunder Bay was uneven. Second, try to replicate the sunny optimism that worked so well for Jack Layton in the federal leader's debate, and try to turn that lingering goodwill into votes on October 6th. Third, look for opportunities to distinguish herself from the other two leaders, and use humour where appropriate - similar to the clever "shoes" ad the NDP released last week. Finally, focus on getting a good media bump in the post-debate coverage. With the exception of 25-30 seats, the NDP's on the ground organization is a bit spotty - so they will need the earned media to help drive their supporters out to the polls.

 

Michael Rosenstock, NDP Strategist:

This is Horwath's first debate but her positive approach should be refreshing.  She'll need to do in the debate what she's been doing during this campaign: focus on priorities and contrast hers (affordability, health care) with the other guys’ (corporate tax cuts).

 

Camille Labchuk, Green Strategist:

Andrea Horwath doesn't have much hope of winning. She could distinguish herself from the other leaders by ditching the NDP's meaningless "change that puts people first" rhetoric, but I'm not holding my breath. The truth is, the NDP doesn't know what it stands for anymore. The federal party may have prettied up its orange signs with green paint, but provincially, the colour blue features prominently. This makes sense, given that the NDP's populism-driven energy policy is bad news for the environment and bad news for lower income people, but good news for the energy hogs that stand to benefit the most. Horwath will have to square her contradictory election platform for voters.

 

ONW: The debate is huge in terms of driving voter preferences at the ballot box. Can the Green’s leader Mike Schreiner recover from not being allowed in the debate?


Bob Richardson, Liberal Strategist:

I disagree that the debate is huge, that was once the case, am not sure it is today. It is important if someone does a particularly bad job but that is unlikely.  We respect the Greens, this is a tough election anyways for them, as I have previously said, environmentalists are happy with the progress Dalton McGuinty has made and as such it it's tough for them to get their message out.


Blair McCreadie, PC Strategist:

I think that the seeds of the Green Party's poor campaign were sown long before this debate.  Mr. Schreiner has really been missing from the public debate in the weeks and months leading up to this election campaign. Without laying a proper foundation, the Greens have struggled to get the media exposure necessary to put them on the same playing field as the three major Ontario parties.


Camille Labchuk, Green Strategist:

As for the Greens, we remain ever optimistic. Our membership and fundraising are through the roof, and Mike Schreiner will rouse the troops at a campaign rally while the debates take place. But as the question implies, the debate is influential in shaping election outcomes. So why do we let a group of unaccountable network executives decide who gets in? The Greens have unique positions on election issues, and democracy is impoverished when Ontarians don't get to hear from all of the parties. With voter turn out reaching record lows, it's irresponsible to shut more people out of the process by ignoring relevant perspectives. An institutional body that sets out clear criteria for inclusion should oversee the debates.


Posted date : September 27, 2011
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