Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak moved to explain again on Monday why he chose to campaign in southern Ontario, rather than in Thunder Bay, where the leaders of the Liberal and NDP were squaring off in a debate on northern issues.

Hudak said he "wish he could have" appeared at the one-hour midday debate. He has blamed scheduling conflicts with campaign events in southern Ontario. But his no-show in Thunder Bay didn't stop him from claiming that he's the "only [leader] that's actually listened to northerners."

"I don't think there's been any leader who has spent more time traversing northern Ontario and talking to northerners than me," he said during a noon-hour campaign stop at a plant in Thornhill, Ont.

"We're the only ones talking about how we can actually turn the Ring of Fire into a job-creating reality. We're the only ones who actually put out a northern vision."

Hudak and the PCs confirmed last week that he would not be making the trek north to take part in the northern issues leaders' debate.

The PCs didn't hold any of the nine seats north of North Bay in Queen's Park prior to dissolution. Given that, several pundits and columnists suggested PC strategists were hoping Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath might inflict enough damage on each other during the debate to help their northern candidates on June 12.

Hudak had criticized former Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty for skipping the northern debate in the 2011 election.​

Familiar themes

The Tory leader began his campaign day Monday working a friendly town-hall crowd in Peterborough, where he revisited some familiar themes.

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Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak began his campaign day Monday at a town-hall meeting in Peterborough. (Fred Thornhill/Canadian Press)

Responding to critics who've charged that health care will be a major casualty of his campaign promise to chop 100,000 public sector jobs, Hudak said they're misguided because the cuts would be targeted at the bureaucracy rather than those delivering front-line home care.

Hudak said it's the "health bureaucrats" who stand to lose their jobs, not nurses.

"Forty cents of every dollar that's supposed to go into home care goes into administration. Kathleen Wynne, the Liberals and the NDP, they say that's OK," he said.

"If there's a choice between 2,000 health bureaucrats and hiring 2,000 more nurses and personal support workers, I'll take the nurses and the PSWs every day of the week."

He repeated his pledge to bring in a 10 per cent income tax cut once the budget is balanced and to implement a freeze of all public service wages for two years to help bring about a balanced budget.

"I am not going to stand by and let the government union leaders continue to put us into bankruptcy," he said. "The Liberals, the NDP, they'll do whatever it takes to get elected. I'll do what's right for Ontarians — a balanced budget and more jobs."

"Government workers get paid 27 per cent more than the same job in the private sector," he said. "It's not fair, it's not balanced, and how you address it, you start with a wage freeze."

Hudak dismissed the NDP's campaign promises along with the Liberal campaign platform, which Wynne released on Sunday, as a "Sears catalog of promises" that the provincial treasury can't realistically accommodate. 

"Do you really think that they can afford all of these new promises, or are they just trying to buy your vote for the election and then break the news after that they're going to increase your taxes," he asked.