NDP Leader Andrea Horwath came out swinging at the first Ontario leaders’ debate, calling the Liberal government corrupt and saying voters are fed up with their lies.

Horwath said Kathleen Wynne was at the centre of the decision to cancel two gas plants to save Liberal seats in the last election, at a cost to taxpayers of up to $1.1 billion.

She also used her opening statement at the debate in Thunder Bay to attack Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak for failing to show up, saying his absence shows his true feelings about northerners.

Hudak campaigned in Peterborough and in the GTA, saying it was unfortunate his schedule wouldn’t allow him to attend the debate in Thunder Bay.

Wynne tried to strike a positive tone in the debate, saying she was convinced northern Ontario would once again become an economic driver of the province’s economy thanks to the region’s rich resource troves.

“We need that chromite,” said Wynne, referring to the massive Ring of Fire mining project. “But we also need your talent, your ingenuity, and your determined spirit.”

The Ring of Fire development came up more than once, with both leaders promising large investments and action to develop mining and smeltering operations in the region, centred around the James Bay Lowlands.

Horwath said the NDP is committed to whatever funding is necessary.

“NDP are committed not only to the $1-billion [needed], but if it takes more than that we’re committed to that as well,” Horwath said.

Wynne stressed the importance of developing the Ring of Fire, likening the project to Alberta’s oil sands.

If elected, the Liberals will seek federal partners to help with the project, Wynne said, but they are prepared to take on the entire project if need be.

On the topic of electricity and power in the north, Wynne blamed high rates on the billions of dollars the government had to invest in Ontario’s aging and long-neglected hydro system.

Wynne promised to convert existing power plants to biomass, ensure everyone is connected to the distribution system, and continue to bring down energy costs through existing programs like the Northern Industrial Electricity Rate Program.

Horwath promised to cap public sector CEO salaries, including in the energy sector. She also promised to audit deals with private power companies in an effort to reduce waste.

Horwath promised the budget would be balanced by 2017-2018 under an NDP government.

Former premier Dalton McGuinty was criticized for skipping the northern debate in the 2011 election.