There was no knockout blow, no decisive victor and very few spirited exchanges in Tuesday night’s Ontario leaders’ debate.
The party leaders — the Liberals' Dalton McGuinty, Tim Hudak of the Progressive Conservatives and the NDP's Andrea Horwath — largely kept the debate civil and rarely strayed from their well-rehearsed campaign scripts during the 90-minute debate held at the CBC’s Broadcast Centre in Toronto.
Talk heading into the debate was that the stakes were sky-high for all three leaders with polls suggesting the Liberals and PCs running neck-and-neck and the NDP possibly holding the balance of power in the event a minority government is elected on Oct. 6.
McGuinty largely held his ground against attacks from Horwath and Hudak, who tried to show that the Liberals have left Ontario in worse shape than when McGuinty was elected premier in 2003.
McGuinty repeatedly touted his government’s record on steering the province through a difficult global economy.
Early on, Hudak tried to press McGuinty on his green energy plan, which is aimed at updating the province’s power generation and distribution systems while pouring money into so-called clean energy projects.
"We’re rebuilding our electricity system, there are costs associated with that," said McGuinty. "There’s no way around it, we’ve got to get it done."
McGuinty said the plan has created "thousands of green energy jobs" while Hudak countered "We got the higher hydro bills, but the jobs never came."
McGuinty attacked Hudak for planning to scrap the $7-billion deal with Samsung, a partner in the Liberal green energy plan.
"You would tear up that contract and kill those jobs," said McGuinty.
Standing between Hudak and McGuinty, Horwath assailed both her opponents for "giving blank cheques to opponents that are going to ship our jobs somewhere else."
Exchange over Mississauga power plant
One of the few memorable exchanges of the debate came as Hudak was challenging McGuinty for cancelling a power plant in Mississauga last weekend in the face of community opposition to the project.
"During the course of the last six years things have changed," said McGuinty as he began to explain the reasoning behind the decision.
"What’s changed is there’s an election on the horizon," said Horwath.
Hudak picked up on the comment while giving credit to Horwath.
"I think Andrea had a great line there, the only thing that has changed sir is there is an election campaign."
Horwath also tried to call out the other two leaders on the few occasions debate between them became heated.
"This is the problem with this campaign," said Horwath. "The hurling of accusations and insults when we should be talking about how to make Ontario a better place."
Hudak challenged about 'foreigners' comments
At one point in the debate, McGuinty turned the criticism toward Hudak, telling him he wasn't comfortable with his attitude towards "foreigners."
Hudak used the term early in the campaign when speaking about a Liberal plan to give tax breaks to companies that hire professional immigrants.
"Dalton, you know that's not true," said Hudak, claiming he only used that term because it was the way the Liberals initially described it.
"I know you want to say anything not to talk about your record."
McGuinty defended his tax record — he has brought in both a health tax and the HST despite promising no new taxes — saying he would not raise taxes this time around and Hudak should "stop saying" that he would.
"With all due respect, sir, nobody believes you anymore," Hudak replied.
All three leaders appeared poised as the debate format allowed for a limited amount of one-on-one sparring.
The format of the debate featured six rounds, with two of the three leaders debating each other for six minutes before the third leader was allowed to jump in for the subsequent eight minutes. Questions submitted by viewers initiated each exchange.
Steve Paikin, host of TVO’s The Agenda, moderated Tuesday's debate.