Campaign takes nasty tone early on

The Ontario election campaign hasn't officially started, but the attacks were already getting nasty Tuesday with accusations of intimidation, leaked phone calls, secret videotapes and threats of an extreme right-wing government.
A Liberal staffer stands in front of Don Valley West PC candidate Andrea Mandel-Campbell, who the Tories say was trying to attend the Liberal campaign launch at a downtown Toronto hotel on Monday(YouTube)

The Ontario election campaign hasn't officially started, but the attacks were already getting nasty Tuesday with accusations of intimidation, leaked phone calls, secret videotapes and threats of an extreme right-wing government.

The attack machine has been churning for weeks at the provincial legislature, but the antics seem to be getting more pointed — and silly — as the parties prepare for the writ to drop Wednesday, marking the official start of the campaign.

Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty wasted no time in trying to paint the Progressive Conservatives as Ontario's Tea Party, saying they had been taken over by the far right-wing ideas of the American movement because of their attack on a Liberal promise of a $10,000 tax credit for employers who give immigrants their first job.

"This issue has given us a window on their thinking," McGuinty said.

The Tories, meanwhile, said they were "stunned" by TVO reporter Steve Paikin's tweet from McGuinty's event Tuesday morning that said a teacher asked some students to leave if they planned to cause trouble — even though it's school policy to ask uninterested students to leave when there's a visiting speaker.

Paikin’s tweet said: "awaiting (at)Dalton--McGuinty at markham secondary sch. The teacher just said to studs "if you're anti-lib, you can leave." 6 kids did," the tweet read. "the teacher continues: "ok, now that the anarchists have left ..."

The Tory reaction prompted Pakin to go on radio to explain his tweet was being taken out of context, and he wasn't suggesting it looked like non-Liberals were told to leave.

His later tweet read: "clarifying: tchr said if you're anti-lib & you don't think you can control your urge to heckle, you can leave. So 6 did. The teacher wasn't targeting conservatives, as I've seen tweeted. he was trying to ensure appropriate behavior for a visiting VIP."

The Tories also complained Tuesday they hadn't been let into the Liberal platform launch the day before. That's not unusual in itself, since most parties will at times ban each other from certain media events.

This complaint, however, came with video showing PC candidate  Andrea Mandel-Campbell trying to get into the platform launch and being obstructed by what the Tories called "a large and intimidating Liberal staffer", walking in front of her filming her and preventing her from getting around him to get into the event.

The PCs also said he was blocking in her in an "aggressive" manner.

"We've noticed that Dalton McGuinty is treating this campaign differently than 2003 and 2007, they're [now] blocking people from going into their events," said PC campaign spokesman Jason Lietaer. 

"We're not going to treat them like that, we're going to go about our business and talk about what we want to talk about and not waste our time and energy keeping people out of our events." 

Tories, Liberals turn to YouTube

Two Liberal staffers waited outside an NDP media event with a laptop Tuesday, showing what they said was video of NDP Leader Andrea Horwath's orange SUV driving too close to cyclists, despite the party's promise to bring in a one-metre rule to keep cars away from bikes. 

The video, taken from a car following Horwath's SUV and distributed by the Liberals, includes silly noises every time the vehicle approaches bicycles, even though its actual proximity to the bikes is difficult to gauge.

Horwath called the tone of the campaign so far disappointing, adding that the needs of voters get lost when an election becomes about "who shouts the loudest."

"There's a lot of problems facing Ontarians, and my biggest problem isn't whether or not there's a Liberal outside showing what kind of car I'm in," Horwath said.

"I think people are fed up with that kind of silliness and they deserve a campaign that speaks to the concerns that they have."

Horwath is so far the only party leader to avoid making negative ads, although the NDP have released some radio ads listing a few of the ways in which the HST makes life more expensive, which some Liberals have interpreted as an attack on their tax policy.

Horwath says she won't run a negative campaign and believes she'll be able to resist mud-slinging, no matter how nasty things get over the next month.

"That's not my nature, I don't tend to fall into that ugly place easily, and I'm going to do my best to focus on what people tell me they're worried about." 

There also appeared to be some strife within the parties: A leaked Liberal conference call that outlined the party's platform a day before the premier was set to announce it exposed the fact that even top Liberal insiders are concerned about some of their policies.

Liberal campaign co-chair Greg Sorbara said the Liberals weren't looking to run a negative campaign, adding he didn't know anything about cameras following Horwath's SUV.

"We expect some nastiness from the other side —Mr. Hudak trying to drive a wedge amongst Ontarians is an example of it," Sorbara said.

"We are very high on proposals that we have made to the people of Ontario ... and the listening in on conference calls and the secret videotaping, it's not a part of what we're going to do." 

Asked if it was going to be a nasty campaign, McGuinty only said he was looking forward "to a healthy collision of ideas."