Ontario leaders discuss COVID, affordability and climate crisis

It was about crisis management.

Ontario leaders’ debate was dominated by the two-year COVID-19 crisis, the affordability crisis now threatening post-pandemic recovery from the pandemic, and who is best to tackle the climate crisis.

As Ontarians head to the polls on June 2, the four main party leaders squared off Monday night for a raucous 90-minute showdown about where the province has been and where it’s going.

Doug Ford has admitted he made mistakes in the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Progressive Conservative leader stressed he meant well.

In an electrifying exchange with Liberal leader Steven Del Duca, Ford said the pandemic was “the most challenging time of my entire life … and I don’t wish that on any prime minister” and noted that he “apologized” when they were detected. mistakes. done.

“Did we do everything right? No, we didn’t get it all right, but I will tell you that every decision I made was with the best of intentions, with the best medical advice I could get at the time,” the Tory leader said, pointing to “two and a half years.” half a year, literally 24/7, I was working on this pandemic.”

Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca arrives at the Ontario Electoral Leaders Debate in Toronto on Monday, May 16, 2022.

But Del Duca accused Ford of ignoring critical advice at a critical time, fueling a third wave of COVID-19 last spring.

“Everyone watching from home knows that in February 2021, when the science table told Ford Conservatives to ‘don’t reopen so quickly,’ and ignored that it dramatically worsened subsequent waves of COVID for Ontario families ”, said the liberal leader.

“And then when he rushed in, he decided he wanted to shut down the playgrounds and give the police more card powers that have nothing to do with the challenge we’re facing.”

That was a reference to Ford’s April 16, 2021 decision to impose controversial measures designed to limit the mobility of Ontarians and slow the spread of COVID-19.

A day later, amid public outcry, he changed course to ensure children could play outside and motorists could drive freely without fear of police cards.

Speaking to reporters after the debate, Ford said “not many elected officials come out and admit when they’re wrong.”

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath waves to supporters as she arrives at the Ontario Election Leaders debate in Toronto on Monday, May 16.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath reminded Ford of the 13,102 COVID-19 deaths in Ontario, nearly 4,400 of whom were vulnerable seniors in nursing homes.

“Many families saw their loved ones, as the military showed us when they arrived, dying in long-term care homes from malnutrition and dehydration,” Horwath said.

“I would have made sure an ‘iron ring’ was placed around older people in long-term care,” he added, mocking Ford’s early pandemic claim that he was protecting older people in care.

The Tory leader sounded more comfortable and confident when he spoke about the economic recovery and affordability crisis facing Ontarians with inflation running at 6.7 percent, the highest level since 1991.

“Friends, you are going to have a clear choice. All three … want to raise their taxes, get license plate stickers back and raise the gas tax,” Ford said, referring to Horwath, Del Duca and Green leader Mike Schreiner.

“Mr. Del Duca, I just want to remind you that under your leadership and former Prime Minister Kathleen Wynne, you destroyed this province, the economy was going downhill faster than the Canadian bobsled team,” Ford said.

“We are the only party that says yes to … building key roads and infrastructure like the 413 and the Bradford Bypass,” he said, touting the proposed 60-kilometre Highway 413 from Milton to Vaughan and the 16.2-kilometre bypass that joins the 400. and 404 freeways.

Ontario Green Party leader Mike Schreiner arrives at the Ontario election leaders debate in Toronto on Monday, May 16, 2022. THE

Schreiner, who, like Horwath and Del Duca, opposes the new highways, which would wipe out hundreds of acres of farms and green land, criticized Ford’s environmental record.

“Mr. Ford… dismantled all of Ontario’s climate action plans and then began systematically dismantling environmental protections, many of them introduced by previous Conservative governments, notably Bill Davis,” the green chief said.

“He said this is all about cutting red tape. Well, sorry, protecting people from floods is not a bureaucracy. Protecting the farmlands that feed us is not a bureaucracy.”

Del Duca, a former transportation minister in Prime Minister Wynne’s government, said Ford only wants to build Highway 413 “to enrich some of his donors.”

“It’s not going to do anything for you,” he said, noting that Liberals scrapped the potentially $10 billion proposal in 2018 because the route barely saved commuters at one point.

Grit’s boss responded that his “pay a dollar provincewide” plan, which will guarantee $1 fares on all Ontario public transit systems, including the TTC and GO, through 2024 will help pocketbooks and the environment.

Horwath said the 413 freeway “is not the right thing to do. Pave over farmland. It paves the greenbelt…and what we don’t need is more massive highways to mansions that no one can afford.”

The NDP leader also trained some of her fire – and anger – on Del Duca with every public opinion poll showing the two vying for second place behind Ford.

“With all due respect, you had 15 years to do all those things and you didn’t,” Horwath said, interjecting as the Liberal rattled off a list of promises.

He shot Del Duca: “Every time you attack me, like you have for a year, Doug Ford smiles.”

“Progressives need real leadership and that is what we are offering,” the Liberal leader said.

Horwath countered that Ontario voters punished the Grits, who were in office from 2003 to 2018, four years ago and have yet to pardon them.

After del Duca chided the Tory for re-litigating the last election: “Mr. Ford seems to be the only person on stage who doesn’t realize that he has been prime minister for the last four years,” the NDP leader pounced.

“I understand why he doesn’t want to talk about the 2018 election because he only retained seven seats and that’s because he let Ontarians down,” Horwath said.

Ford launched his own attacks on the New Democrats, boasting that several private sector unions have backed the Tories.

You have lost contact. You’re out of touch with working men and women… when the unions first support us. They know we’re going to make it,” he said.

Moderated by Star’s Althia Raj and “The Agenda” host Steve Paikin, the 90-minute debate reached millions of Ontarians via CBC, CHCH, Citytv, CPAC, CTV, Global, TVO, CBC Radio and Newstalk. 1010, as well as online. .

A member of SEIU, the union that represents nurses, lies injured on Yonge Street after he and two others tried to sit in the path Doug Ford would have taken to enter the TVO building.

About 250 banner-carrying supporters from all parties cheered and chanted outside TVO’s studio on Yonge Street and Eglinton Avenue as police and security pushed the leaders through the crowd.

Three purple-clad protesters from the Service Employees International Union, which represents healthcare workers, attempted to block Ford’s campaign bus as it arrived but were removed. One SEIU member was injured and taken to the hospital.

A police officer snatched a sign from a Ford supporter as he brandished it toward Del Duca in the driveway. He then returned it with a stern warning.

Robert Benzie is the bureau chief for Star’s Queen’s Park and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

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