TORONTO — As the contenders to lead Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives prepare to face off in public for the first time, experts say Thursday’s debate brings a crucial opportunity for candidates to seize control of a race that has so far been dominated by one voice.
Former Toronto city councillor Doug Ford, who was the first to throw his hat in the ring, has set the agenda in the early days of the leadership race by denouncing the party’s proposed carbon tax and promising to revisit the province’s controversial sex education curriculum.
As a result, experts said, his opponents have had no choice but to spell out — and at times reconsider — their positions on those issues regardless of their own priorities.
The hour-long debate will give Christine Elliott and Caroline Mulroney a chance to prove they can take charge and draw attention to their own ideas, said Kathy Brock, a policy expert and political science professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.
“Both Caroline Mulroney and Christine Elliott need to make sure that they are putting their issues onto the agenda and they are not letting Doug Ford drive it and to push back a little bit at him,” Brock said.
“This is an opportunity to really establish themselves.”
The carbon tax — which Ford, Elliott and Mulroney now all oppose — and how to replace it will likely emerge as a key issue in the debate as the candidates seek ways to differentiate themselves, Brock said. Their stance on the rest of the platform issued under former Tory leader Patrick Brown could also show whether they plan to take the party in a new direction, she said.
The province’s finances are also likely to take centre stage as at least one candidate has vowed to recoup some of the revenue lost by axing the carbon tax by cutting costs in the public sector, she said. Those cuts could drive away some of the voters the Progressive Conservatives hope to steal from the Liberals and New Democrats, she said.
Each of the three top candidates will have to overcome challenges in order to win over viewers, experts said. A fourth candidate, social conservative Tanya Granic Allen, joined the race earlier this week and said she will also participate.
The stakes are highest for Mulroney, a rookie politician and relative unknown who must prove she can discuss policy and hold her own against more experienced and forceful rivals, they …read more