“There isn’t a yes or no answer,” Kathleen Wynne said on Monday to the question of whether a government under her watch would lay off workers to help meet deficit-reduction targets.
It was a response that plainly delighted Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives, if only because it gave them an opportunity to sow doubts among left-of-centre voters, and the Tories had some fun with it on Tuesday, including with this online spot:
It was perhaps fitting that Ms. Wynne’s comment came the same day as her quasi-debate with Andrea Horwath in Thunder Bay, albeit during a press conference that followed it. Because it points to a significant concern for her party when it comes to how she’ll perform in campaign’s one real leaders’ debate, next Tuesday evening.
Of Ontario’s major party leaders, Ms. Wynne is the least concise communicator. It’s often possible to hear her thinking aloud as she answers questions, it often takes her about 20 seconds to arrive at the point she wants to make, and in the meanwhile she occasionally veers off message.
So far that hasn’t hurt her much in this campaign, and it might even work to her advantage. Next to her opponents, who default much more readily to talking points, Ms. Wynne’s more conversational style could make her seem more human and less like a typical politician.
Her aversion to delivering well-scripted responses, though, is a source of stress for her campaign team. That’s partly because there’s worry that if she rambles too much, it could make her look indecisive and not premier-like. It’s also because, as we saw Monday, she can get herself into trouble while she’s trying to reason her way through her response.
Part of the problem in this case, of course, was that she doesn’t have an especially good response to questions about how her government would achieve its target of returning to balanced budgets by 2017-18, because the related hard decisions were almost completely glossed over in the budget that triggered this election.
But under attack from both other party leaders in next week’s debate, she could get into trouble on a whole bunch of topics if she gets too tentative or ponderous. That’s something fellow Liberals have tried to coach her past, but they evidently still have some work to do.