Seven Ontario Liberal leadership hopefuls hold first debate today

TORONTO – The Ontario Liberal leadership race kicks into gear Saturday with the first debate between the seven men and women running to become the next premier.

The candidates will square off in Ingersoll in southwestern Ontario this afternoon in the first of five scheduled debates before the leadership convention in Toronto Jan. 25-26.

It’ll be the first chance for most people to hear what the would-be premiers have to say and for the candidates to highlight the differences from their competitors, all of whom served in Dalton McGuinty’s cabinet at one time or another.

Kathleen Wynne, one of the perceived front-runners, says the candidates will have to attempt to stake out their own ground without treading too heavily on each other or the government’s record.

She says party members don’t want to see the candidates “ripping each other apart.”

The would-be premiers will be trying to win over potential delegates who will be the ones that actually vote for the new Liberal leader.

Delegates will be selected at meetings across the province the weekend of Jan. 11-12, just two weeks before the convention.

McGuinty surprised everyone on Oct. 15 with his decision to resign and prorogue the legislature, a move that killed planned committee hearings into the costly cancellation of two gas plants, as well as a rare contempt motion against his embattled Energy Minister Chris Bentley.

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