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NDP pushes for additional leaders' debates on jobs, northern Ontario issues

TORONTO - Provincial party leaders could face off in two additional debates if NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has her way.

She's again pushing her rivals for a debate on jobs and the economy, saying they're a priority for Ontarians in the June 12 election and deserve to be in the spotlight.

"One of the things I'm concerned about is that we're not focusing enough on that in this campaign," she said Monday during a campaign stop at a north Toronto bakery.

"I do believe the people in this province need to get an understanding of what the party leaders believe are the best ways to stimulate job creation and to get people back to work in this province."

She had previously challenged her opponents to five debates, including one on northern Ontario issues.

The Liberals have agreed to take part in the northern debate, which is planned for May 26 in Thunder Bay. They drew criticism in the 2011 election campaign for skipping a similar debate, a decision they blamed on a scheduling conflict.

"I think that it's very important that we recognize that there are issues that need to be debated about that part of the province that are not always well understood by other parts of the province," said Premier Kathleen Wynne.

"So it's very important to me that we have the opportunity to take part in that leaders' debate in the north."

The Progressive Conservatives haven't said whether they'll show up, on top of participating in the scheduled leaders' debate on June 3.

"We're working on details on when the debates are going to happen and all that stuff. But what's most important is the ideas that you bring to the table," Hudak said when asked about Horwath's proposal.

The Tories have issued an open letter urging Wynne to participate in an all-candidates debate in her Toronto riding of Don Valley West.

They've also made jobs the centrepiece of their campaign, promising to create half a million additional jobs over eight years with their cost- and tax-cutting policies.

But they also plan to cut 100,000 public sector jobs cut as a way to help eliminate the province's $12.5-billion deficit by 2016. Hudak has said the move would spur job creation in the private sector.

The Liberals, meanwhile, are touting a multi-pronged approach that includes government grants and more money for post-secondary schools.

Horwath has said an NDP government would establish a tax credit that would compensate employers for bringing on new staff, a plan she said would cost $500 million over two years and create up to 170,000 "good-paying jobs."

— with files from Allison Jones and Diana Mehta

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