NDP hopefuls square off in first debate

Leadership candidates for Ontario’s New Democrats met face-to-face Nov. 8 for the first of nine debates on the way to replacing outgoing leader Howard Hampton.

Hundreds of NDP faithful showed up at the Ramada Plaza in downtown Toronto to hear the four candidates outline their plans. The candidates discussed a range of issues including the economy and the environment.

Toronto-Danforth MPP Peter Tabuns warned the 300-strong crowd that “neither Ontario nor the NDP is serious about the 21st century.”

In order to deal with a faltering economy and climate change, Tabuns urged party members to back his green agenda as a way to revitalize the NDP and the provincial economy.

He said Ontario must build a “new energy economy” based the development of new environmental technology to avoid a “rust belt future.”

Former East York mayor and current Beaches-East York MPP Michael Prue called himself a “union guy” and said the NDP had to adopt a “buy Ontario policy” to help the struggling economy.

A top priority for Prue would be to convince voters that the NDP would handle the economy responsibly. He also said the NDP has to win back union support, which has waned in recent years.

Timmins-James Bay MPP Gilles Bisson told the crowd that the “NDP’s journey to government starts at the grassroots.”

He said more revenue sharing was needed at the party’s riding level to find high-quality candidates and organize effective campaigns.

As NDP leader, Bisson said he would “provide cheap energy” to the hard-hit manufacturing industry and invest in research and development.

He would also demand job guarantees from companies, especially the auto industry, that ask for government assistance.

Hamilton MPP Andrea Horwath touted her skills as a “community organizer” in order to build the party from the ground up.

She promoted a province-wide plan to modernize public transportation, which would create jobs and help the environment.

A question from the audience on faith-based school funding provided the tensest moments of the debate.

Prue said funding Catholic schools only was unfair and cited a UN resolution condemning the practice as discriminatory.

While Prue pushed for the “right to debate the school system” the other candidates disagreed.

“We looked at what happened in the last election when John Tory drove his party over a cliff on the faith-based funding issue,” Tabuns warned. “When you take on those issues, everything else gets cleared off the table.”

The NDP candidates will travel around the province for eight more debates before the leadership convention in March.