The Big Ontario TV Debate

And the winner is ... Horwath! No, Hudak! No McGuinty! -- depending on which partisan declares it.

The Ontario leaders’ debate last night went 90 minutes long, featured six questions out of 1,000 submitted, began each segment with about a five-minute one on one then finished with all three leaders debating. The moderator was Steve Paikin.

My butt was numb by the end.

But Twitter, as it always does, made the debate fun.

The first person the camera revealed was PC Leader Tim Hudak. The problem with television is it shows off the superficial first, and so politicial leaders spend hours prepping and grooming and practicing and practicing. Still, you never know how that first moment will go. Hudak was groomed to an inch of his skin but they forgot the bags under his eyes. And his presentation was so polished, there was no life. That was true for Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty too, at first. But he has had so much experience, that he did relax fairly soon into the debate.

The first one on one was between McGuinty and Hudak, and it was five minutes before we got our first gander at NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

I was stunned.

She’d chosen an outfit that suited the set and made her stand out yet look eminently professional. Being a woman, looking polished and groomed comes standard, that is, she didn’t look odd like Hudak’s hair. And she spoke assertively, confidently -- with life. When the men tried to steamroller over her -- which is what men do with women in any setting you can name -- she held her own. She persisted and prevailed without the usual effect of a woman’s naturally higher voice sounding screechy, probably because she was determined to make her point without being desperate to try and squeeze a word in. She is the first woman leader I’ve seen that looks and sounds like a real leader of a major party, like someone who’ll fit in the Premier’s chair, not an academic or some folksy person who knows they’ll never be in power.

Horwath and Hudak spouted campaign-trail anecdotes and family stories like an unleashed fire hose. McGuinty, natch, relied on his government’s record for his personal touch. The only time McGuinty’s body language changed noticeably, his gestures becoming almost frantic, was when Hudak brought up eHealth. It made me wonder what is going on there that McGuinty felt so vulnerable at its mention. McGuinty in turn quoted Bill Davis to Hudak -- “It’s unbecoming to run down our province.” -- reminding everyone how great the PCs used to be and how they are not that party anymore. Also co-opting another party’s venerated leader is cheeky. Horwath got the first zinger in of the night when she said it was nice to know McGuinty has managed to go up to Thunder Bay and told him where a small northern town is; later she reminded the audience that Stephen Harper is Hudak’s leader.

Hydro and its rising unaffordability was the big topic of the evening and on Twitter too.

Despite all the stories and smugness, no leader had swayed me to or from their party until Hudak opened his mouth and said how McGuinty was taking money away from Ontario students and giving it to foreigners. He also used the equality word to blanket his distasteful us-them language over the employer tax credit to hire immigrants with no “Canadian experience.” Hudak’s xenophobic stance is repulsive. I was prepared to forgive and forget his previous remarks on these issues, but he repeated them last night and denied what everyone knows, that he called immigrants “foreign workers” in previous statements. He seems to think that because he’s descended from immigrants that makes his statements okay. As an actual immigrant, I say no it does not.

I’m not sure there’s a winner, but Horwath was a pleasant surprise. I can easily see her as Premier, which before the debate I could not have.