|Premier Dalton McGuinty (QMI AGENCY PHOTO)
WATERLOO, Ont. - A Dalton McGuinty majority government is riding on the outcome of two Ontario byelections.
Voters in Kitchener-Waterloo and Vaughan will decide Thursday if McGuinty's Liberals will gain the slimmest of majorities over the opposition or be sent back to the legislature to continue working out difficult compromises with the Tories and New Democrats.
The three political leaders have pinned their hopes on Kitchener-Waterloo, where the departure of longtime Tory MPP Elizabeth Witmer has generated an exciting three-way race.
McGuinty, in Waterloo on the eve of the byelection to support local candidate Eric Davis, said it is always easier for a government to implement its agenda - including campaign promises like the seniors healthy home tax credit - with a majority.
"Whatever the outcome is, we will accept that," McGuinty said. "Having said that, it is my preference and my deepest desire that we win this riding, that Eric Davis be chosen as the Member of Provincial Parliament for Kitchener-Waterloo."
After a byelection campaign in which the Liberals publicly battled teacher unions, Hudak, also in the riding Wednesday, said he doesn't believe voters are buying the Grits' message.
The Liberals issued a flyer in Kitchener-Waterloo, where NDP candidate Catherine Fife is polling competitively, stating that voters should not cast their ballots to "let the teacher unions get their way. Vote to keep funding in the classroom."
"That sounds like an advertisement for us," Hudak said. "A pretty transparent charade that Dalton McGuinty puts up, that after nine years of opening the floodgates to runaway spending, being suddenly the guy who's going to turn it off."
Tracey Weiler, Hudak's candidate, said she's hearing at the door that residents are not convinced the Liberals are committed to controlling spending and creating jobs.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the Liberals deliberately chose to target teachers in the campaign - without success.
"It's a very cynical ploy that people recognize for what it was." Horwath said. "I think that the voters of Kitchener-Waterloo were really disappointed that the government went in that direction, instead of addressing the real issues people have there."
Horwath repeated the charge in question period, suggesting the McGuinty government had whipped up a crisis in education to bolster their byelection campaign.
"The only individual around here who seems enamoured with the word 'crisis' is my honourable colleague, the leader of the NDP," McGuinty said. "My honourable colleague may not believe that it's time to hit the pause button when it comes to teacher pay, and broader public sector pay for that matter.
"But we do believe in those kinds of things. They may not be easy to do, but we are saddled with a heavy responsibility in government and we will gladly embrace that continuing responsibility."
In Vaughan, Steven Del Duca is running for the Liberals, Tony Genco for the Tories and Paul Donofrio for the NDP.
- with files from Jonathan Jenkins