Ontario election: Wynne softens tone as she talks education

Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne adopted a somewhat softer campaign tone Monday even as she kept up her attacks on her rivals, calling them poor choices for Ontario voters come election day.

Liberal leader says campaign should be about more than just tactics and politics

Ontario Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne reads a story to kindergarten students during a campaign stop at a school in Cambridge, Ont., on Monday. She said the province's education system is under threat from the Tories' pledge to cut 100,000 jobs, including thousands in education. (Colin Perkel/CP)

Premier Kathleen Wynne adopted a somewhat softer campaign tone Monday even as she kept up her attacks on her rivals, calling them poor choices for Ontario voters come election day..

Speaking at an elementary school, Wynne spoke at length about her political motivations as she touted the Liberal track record on education.

It was as a young mother who saw the disruptions in the education system under former Progressive Conservative premier Mike Harris that she was driven to try to improve the system, she said.

The system, she said, is now under threat from her Tory opponent, Tim Hudak, with his pledge to cut 100,000 public-sector jobs.

"The reason that I'm in politics is that when it was tried before under Mike Harris, it didn't work. It created chaos in the system," Wynne said.

"That's what motivated me then... and that's what motivates me now. That's why I'm in this."

'Very lively campaign' choice for voters, Wynne says

In pointed speeches over the weekend, Wynne characterized both Hudak and New Democratic Leader Andrea Horwath as being reckless and misleading voters.

She blasted their approach and platforms, and pleaded with NDP voters to side with her as the only way to stop Hudak.

She insisted they were scandalmongers and mudslingers for calling the Liberal government corrupt and dishonest over the gas plants scandal, which will cost taxpayers an estimated $1.1 billion.

Horwath replied that Wynne was "trying to scare" voters.

But then Wynne sounded a softer note Monday, as she reflected on a "very lively campaign" she said should be about more than tactics, strategy and politics.

She pointed to higher graduation rates and other education improvements that have occurred over the past decade under a Liberal government she only took over 16 months ago.

Hudak would undermine those improvements with a plan that "starts with cuts and continues with cuts," Wynne said.

"It's wrong-headed. I don't believe it. We've seen it before."

Faults NDP for 'incoherence'

At the same time, she said, Horwath is simply "stringing together a bunch of disparate ideas" leading to a "real incoherence" in what the opposition is saying.

Wynne said she wanted voters to understand the "stark" choice they have June 12. She said she saw no contradiction in saying she wanted to stay away from tactics and strategy while continuing to criticize her opponents and their platforms.

"This is an election campaign — it is a pitched competition between political parties," Wynne said.

"There's absolutely no doubt that there are two options facing people: One is Tim Hudak's cut-and-slash agenda, and one is our plan, which would build the province up."

At a later stop in Stratford, Wynne played up the importance of agriculture to the province and of bridging the urban-rural divide.

"There is only one Ontario," she said.

Hudak spells out education cuts

Meanwhile, Progressive Conservative Leader Hudak spent Monday campaigning in Ottawa and the Golden Horseshoe region. He confirmed that his party's planned cuts will target at least 9,600 personnel in the education sector, but pledged it wouldn't take a toll on special education.

"We've got to make some choices.... But what do I want to see? What does our plan involve? Making sure that special education students get the best quality of education possible," he said.

The Tory platform calls for increasing class sizes, which could affect the number of public school teachers, and reducing the number of early childhood educators in full-day kindergarten classes. 

Hudak has previously said that his party's plan will indeed mean "fewer teachers." Some of his candidates have said otherwise, though, telling voters that no teachers will be let go.

With files from CBC News