Why Premier McGuinty is Not in Thunder Bay Today for leadership debate – by Livio Di Matteo (September 23, 2011)

Livio Di Matteo is Professor of Economics at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Visit his new Economics Blog “Northern Economist” at http://ldimatte.shawwebspace.ca/

Today is the NOMA (Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association) provincial party leaders debate in Thunder Bay between Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath.  Premier McGuinty has declined to attend.  The premier apparently has a previous engagement and furthermore probably believes that as the premier for all Ontario, debates should be held with the entire province rather than a single region as the stage.  The outrage in the North has been palpable but in simple cost-benefit terms, if I were the premier, I would have made the same decision.

I probably also would have added that the debate seemed exclusionary and elitist given that according to my last look it required a 95 dollar conference admission fee.  But then what do I know, I’m an economist, not a political advisor. By the way, the debate is being webcast on the NOMA site . Web Coverage is also available on Netnewsledger.com.

For Dalton McGuinty, coming to Northern Ontario for a regional debate is fraught with high costs and little in the way of benefits.  This is a region – that usually tends to vote Liberal or NDP anyway.  It generally is not an arena for rational and open debate with a reasonable chance that you can change someone’s mind, but a highly partisan political herd environment.  In some ridings, the tradition is to vote Liberal and when you want to punish the Liberals you vote NDP. 

Given the anger over what many see as a weak response to the forest sector crisis by the provincial Liberal government, the desire to publicly punish is high.  Having Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath pummel the premier on forestry job losses when they have not had that much to say about forestry policy themselves is probably not how the premier wants to spend his day.

The debate is also being held in a region that is relatively marginal compared to the vote rich GTA.  It is difficult to see the premier turning down a similar chance to debate the other two leaders in Toronto on the issue of the GTA as Ontario’s economic driver.  The media is clustered in Toronto as are the voters.  In the case of the Northern debate, not too many people in Toronto will be paying attention to the debate anyway unless he makes a major gaffe that is trumpeted in the evening newscasts.

The result of the political calculus?  Coming to the Northern debate has high costs and very low benefits.  Given the very small number of seats at stake particularly in the Northwest where the debate will receive the greatest coverage, he is willing to take his chances.