Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak has seized on an issue sure to be a linchpin in Tuesday's leaders' debate with a pledge to slap strict accountability rules on cabinet ministers if his party wins the June 12 election.
Hudak says all cabinet members would have to sign an "oath to Ontario" guaranteeing they will respect taxpayer dollars, reduce red tape and never raise taxes.
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If they don't make good on those promises they'll see their pay docked, Hudak said, or be fired outright if tripped up in a scandal like those under the Liberal government.
He said the accountability pledge is needed in the face of the "dishonest" governing Liberals who have abused the trust of taxpayers during the scandals over cancelled gas plants, eHealth and Orgne. Hudak also pointed questions about a multimillion-dollar investment in a Toronto real estate development.
"Nobody is ever held accountable. And when nobody is ever held accountable that means things keep happening over and over again — bad decisions, scandals, nobody's ever watching the till anymore," Hudak said Tuesday morning at a printing business in Markham, north of Toronto.
"It seems like nobody ever pays the political price for that."
Hudak was the only party leader to hit the campaign trail ahead of the evening debate. He said his strategy is to be "straight up" and lay out his priorities of boosting jobs and balancing the budget.
While Premier Kathleen Wynne had no events Tuesday ahead of the debate, Liberal cabinet minister Brad Duguid echoed what is likely to be one of her key tactics, arguing Hudak's credibility is at risk due to "mistaken math" in the PC leader's Million Jobs Plan.
"He can sign anything he wants," Duguid said. "The fact of the matter is, he wants to cut 100,000 jobs out of our economy. That's going to put us into a tailspin."
Leaders prepare for TV debate
It will be Wynne's first appearance in a televised debate featuring all three leaders and Duguid said she's ready for the challenge.
"I expect we're going to see both opposition leaders trying to gang up on the premier," he said. "I absolutely am confident the premier will stand up to that."
He also slammed New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath, saying her campaign has gone "downhill... and she has nothing left to do but throw stones."
Horwath has of late escalated her attacks on the Liberals, deeming them "rife with corruption." She's said she's looking forward to sparring with her rivals.
Experts are suggesting a number of tactics that the leaders could employ in the faceoff.
Jonathan Malloy of Carleton University's political science department expects to see Wynne and Hudak largely focus on each other.
But Western University politics professor Cameron Anderson says while Wynne and Hudak will be front and centre, Horwath shouldn't be discounted.
Tonight's Ontario election leaders debate
The leaders' debate, hosted by journalist Steve Paikin, begins at 6:30 p.m. ET and runs until 8 p.m. ET.
- Watch it live on CBC News Network and CBC Television.
- Listen live on CBC Radio One (Ontario only).
- Watch livestreaming video online and take part in our live blog at cbc.ca/ontariovotes.
- Get a debate wrap up and analysis on CBC Television News at 11 and online at cbc.ca/ontariovotes.
- Rate the leaders performance after the debate at cbc.ca/votecompass