For the second straight day, Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty refused to give into pressure from his rivals to participate in a debate on Northern issues in the sprawling region. The Progressive Conservatives even offered to pick up the tab for his travel costs.
Mr. McGuinty told reporters in Sault Ste. Marie on Thursday that the organizers of the debate invited him in early August to participate. He told them the date did not work for him but was not given an alternate time.
But he reiterated what he said on Wednesday: that there should be one debate for all Ontarians that contains a segment devoted to Northern issues.
"I want to make sure that the opposition leaders in particular aren't delivering one message up here in Northern Ontario and another message down there in Southern Ontario," he told reporters after touring the Essar Steel plant, the largest employer in the Soo.
Mr. McGuinty singled out New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath. When she is campaigning in Southern Ontario, he said, she talks about putting a moratorium on all mining exploration in the so-called Ring of Fire north of the 51st parallel.
But when she's in the north, he said, she has a different message.
"I think we need to have one debate when we're all on the hot seat so to speak, where all Ontarians are watching us and our position on Northern Ontario issues is one we deliver in the south at the same time."
Speaking at a Richmond Hill Canadian Tire on Thursday, Mr. Hudak said Mr. McGuinty should travel north to "look people in the eye" and talk about mill closures and economic development.
"Mr. McGuinty wants to duck the debate," Mr. Hudak said.
"Incredibly, last week Dalton McGuinty showed just how little respect he has for Northern Ontario when he launched his northern platform in North Toronto instead of Northern Ontario," the Conservatives said in a statement.
"Today, the Ontario PC Party is announcing that if Dalton McGuinty is unwilling to make the trip to Northern Ontario for the debate, we will foot the bill for him to participate via video-conference from North Toronto."
With a file from Steve Ladurantaye