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UW, Laurier academics weigh in on leaders' debate

Last Updated May 7, 2018 at 5:49 pm EDT

Ontario Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne, Ontario PC Leader Doug Ford and Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. THE CANADIAN PRESS

The province’s three major party leaders will face the music — and each other — in tonight’s first TV debate before you cast your ballot on June 7th.

And local academics say it will set the tone for Andrea Horwath’s last attempt to have an orange wave roll across Ontario.

According to University of Waterloo political science professor Anna Esselment, the New Democratic Party leader is well positioned to emerge the unlikely winner, when she squares off with her opponents — Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne and Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford.

“Andrea Horwath probably has the most to gain in this debate,” says Esselment, “because she will likely be trying to give the message that she is the place where Ontarians can vote and feel good about their vote, because she’s not Kathleen Wynne and she’s not Doug Ford.”

But Barry Kay, a political science professor at Wilfrid Laurier says Horwath, despite a high personal approval rating, has failed to move the NDP out of third party status. He doesn’t expect Horwath being the most popular of the three leaders will translate into votes for the NDP.

While both Horwath and Wynne have an advantage over Ford as veteran campaigners, Esselment says Ford’s rookie status will be a challenge. Kay contends, while Ford is the least experienced, the experience he does have is in Toronto.

That will be the Tory’s advantage tonight, as the debate will focus entirely on issues relevant to those who live, work and play in that city, says Kay.

“Wynne and, for that matter, Horwath will probably be as best they can throwing out banana peels hoping that he’ll slip on them,” Kay says. “I think he’s less likely to slip on a banana peel on a debate around city issues because he has aldermanic experience in that regard.”

As for Wynne, Esselment expects all of the knock-out-punches will be delivered by the premier.

“I expect that she will try to paint a picture of Ford for Ontarians,” Esselment says. “There’s no way that she will go down without a fight.”

Kay thinks Wynne’s only hope of escaping defeat will take “Conservative mistakes.”

“There’s nothing the Liberals really can pull out of a hat to reverse what’s happened,” says Kay. “I don’t want to suggest that Ford can’t make a mistake — I think he very well can make a mistake. I just think there’s less likelihood of it occurring in this kind of format.”