TORONTO – With polls suggesting the possibility of an indecisive election result, chatter about a potential coalition government dominated the Ontario campaign trail on Saturday.
The talk of what might happen in the event that voters hand the winning party only a minority of seats included pointed barbs hurled by the leaders at their rivals on the issue.
Liberal Kathleen Wynne warned that voting New Democrat could put Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak in the premier’s office as head of a minority government.
Wynne called it “shocking” that NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has refused to rule out propping up a Hudak-led government if no party wins a commanding majority after June 12.
“Andrea Horwath’s NDP is a party that used to have principles,” Wynne said. “It used to stand for something.”
Horwath, the leader of the third party in the last legislature, hit back at Wynne by attacking the Liberal record, which includes several scandals.
Among them is the cancellation of two gas plants three years ago that will end up costing taxpayers more than $1 billion.
“The last thing I’m going to do is take lessons on principles from a corrupt Liberal party,” Horwath said.
The New Democrat accused Wynne of grasping at straws in an effort to distract voters from the wasted public money.
Despite her refusal to rule out a possible coalition or support of another party after the vote, Horwath slammed Hudak’s pledge to slash the civil service as she said her aim was to overcome the odds and form a government.
“I am running to be premier of this province,” she said.
“I will never support any plan that fires 100,000 hard working people.”
Outside an advance polling station, Hudak again ruled out any kind of coalition and called on his rivals to stop talking about the possibility.
“Last time, (former Liberal premier) Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne said that they could break their promises because of the coalition they formed with the NDP,” Hudak said.
“Voters don’t like that. It might be good for politicians but it’s not good for the province.”
Hudak has come under repeated fire from economists — and his political opponents — for his promised public-sector job cuts even as he pledged to create one million jobs over eight years.
The consensus among experts appears to be that his pledge is based on faulty math — something Hudak denies.
Ontario has twice had minority governments in recent years.
In 1985, the Liberals and NDP signed a two-year accord to replace the newly elected minority Tory government under then-leader Frank Miller.
The Liberals agreed to implement New Democrat policies but pulled the plug two years later. The Liberals won the ensuing election by a landslide and the NDP lost seats.
In the last provincial election in 2011, then-premier Dalton McGuinty hung on to office despite lacking a majority when the New Democrats agreed to support his government.
Horwath forced the current election by refusing to support Wynne’s budget, saying the Liberals could not be trusted to implement its commitments.
— With files from Diana Mehta, Paola Loriggio and Will Campbell