Ontario Liberals accuse Progressive Conservatives of avoiding debates

The Liberal candidate for Barrie-Springwater-Oro Medonte issued a challenge Sunday to all Progressive Conservative candidates, urging them to fill their reserved seats at debates across the province.

Jeff Lehman, Barrie's outgoing mayor, spoke on behalf of the Ontario Liberal Party Sunday, accusing his Conservative opponent, Attorney General Doug Downey, and all Conservative candidates of skipping debates and all-candidate meetings.

"We're here today because we are concerned about something that our candidates are seeing in ridings across the province, and that is it appears that PC candidates have been instructed not to attend all-candidate meetings and media appearances, avoiding debates, especially on issues where the government's record is weak," said Lehman. "This is bad for our province. This is bad for democracy."

Lehman alleges that appearances from Conservative candidates in 63 ridings have been skipped this election cycle. According to Lehman, Downey has appeared at just one of three all candidate events so far.

"By dodging these debates, Doug Ford, Doug Downey and the other Conservatives are taking for granted the trust that people put in our institutions, in democracy," said Lehman. "The most basic test of leadership is showing up; being accountable, listening to the public, answering questions and even uncomfortable ones."

PC Leader Doug Ford, who is campaigning in Bracebridge this morning with local Conservative candidate Graydon Smith, says candidates have not been told to skip debates.

"Not at all. We have a great, great candidate, Doug Downey, the Attorney General, up in Barrie," Ford said in response to the allegations. "He's done a great job representing the people. There's going to be some candidates that want to do the debates and some that aren't going to do the debate."

In a statement provided to CTV News, the campaign of Doug Downey says the Liberal campaign is 'falling apart'. 

"The Barrie-Innisfil candidate has said the party will kill the Bradford bypass, and Mr. Lehman is promising more endless study and delay, despite supporting the bypass in the past," the statement says. "Both positions are at odds with their leader Steven Del Duca.  It is obvious the Liberal campaign is now just every candidate for itself. Mr. Lehman should focus more on clarifying their party's position on the Bradford Bypass and less time worrying about all-candidate debates."