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the Toronto Sun’s Ontario election campaign panel features a trio of political strategists who offer up their insights and perspectives on the big issues.

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After Tuesday afternoon’s first leaders debate, where the candidates squared off in North Bay, the panel looks at who did the best.

CAM HOLMSTROM

Tuesday’s first debate in North Bay gave all four leaders a chance to speak directly to the concerns of Northerners. Being from northwestern Ontario, I know all too well how we northerners feel when it comes to the lack of attention Queen’s Park gives to our region. This debate is usually an opportunity to raise those specific concerns to be addressed directly.

Unfortunately, most leaders didn’t really address those concerns. With the exception of a question about the deplorable winter maintenance of northern highways, most took their “southern” answers and wedged them in.

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The only leader who went beyond that was Andrea Horwath. With her decade of experience with northern issues and input from her northern MPPs, she was the only one who directly addressed those concerns as their own. That attention is part of the reason why the NDP has done so well in the region for so long.

— Cam Holmstrom is Métis, originally from Kenora, and is now a consultant with Ottawa-based Bluesky Strategy Group.

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MELANIE PARADISE

When it comes to Northern Ontario, it’s all about who has a record of getting it done. The Liberals released their Northern Plan just before the leaders’ debate on Tuesday in North Bay, and it’s pretty much a carbon copy of Ford’s plan. The key difference is Steven Del Duca’s track record is all about saying no and ragging the puck on development. He even admitted that the Wynne Liberal cabinet he served in “dramatically under-delivered” on the Ring of Fire.

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Doug Ford has been working alongside Indigenous partners to break the logjam and take important steps forward in getting an all-season road built to the Ring of Fire.

We need those critical minerals more than ever, but Andrea Horwath and the NDP say no to developing our natural resources in Northern Ontario and to the good-paying jobs that come with it. Northern Ontario needs a government that says “yes.”

— Melanie Paradis is a veteran Conservative campaigner and 2nd Vice President of the Ontario PC Party.

MUHAMMAD ALI

Overall, the debate was largely calm and not aggressive, meaning voters would not be put off by pointless bickering. Each leader was able to deliver pointed criticisms and policy ideas, however most left with a few bruises.

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This was a solid first debate for Steven Del Duca; he took some hits but delivered his key messages for northern Ontario voters. In a strategic effort, I have made clear this is not the party of old and this would be a new Ontario Liberal government defined by new policies. It’s important for him to restore the party brand strength in the north.

For northern Ontario voters, there are acute economic, social and infrastructure issues that continue to not be properly addressed like adequate emergency services, year-round accessible highways and affordable housing. Smart policy is giving more financial tools to northern municipalities to make key decisions on emergency services, road repairs and community support programs instead of waiting on provincial action.

— Muhammad Ali is a Senior Consultant at Crestview Strategy, political commentator and former Liberal political staffer who has been involved in federal, provincial and municipal elections.

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