TORONTO - And they're off. The campaign for the Oct. 6 Ontario election has officially begun.
Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty, accompanied by his wife Terri, got things rolling shortly after 9 a.m. by visiting Lt.-Gov. David Onley to formally ask for the dissolution of the legislature.
He said he had a good conversation with the lieutenant governor and is now ready to have a conversation with the people of Ontario.
McGuinty is seeking his third straight majority and faces what all polls predict will be a tight race against rookie Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak.
The two have been sparring for weeks, with Hudak calling McGuinty the Tax Man, while McGuinty says the Tories have been taken over by the Tea Party.
New NDP Leader Andrea Horwath had her buses ready to go early this morning, while Hudak's campaign has been on the road for more than a week already.
Going into the month-long campaign, the Liberals held 70 of the 107 seats, the Progressive Conservatives 24, the New Democrats 10 and three seats were vacant.
While 13 parties are officially registered, recent polls have suggested the three main parties - the Liberals, Tories and New Democrats - will determine who forms the next government.
In all, about 8.5 million people will be eligible to vote on election day.
In 2007, only slightly more than half of eligible voters - 52.1 per cent - actually cast ballots, resulting in the lowest-ever turnout for an Ontario election.
Forming a third straight majority government would cement McGuinty's place in Ontario history but many observers say the incumbent premier has a hard row to hoe over the next four weeks.
“They've been about for eight years,” said Bryan Evans, who teaches political science at Ryerson University.
“There's a certain weariness that creeps into both a government and the electorate.”
Both the Conservatives and New Democrats have been playing strongly to that sentiment, hammering away at the need for change.
McGuinty himself enjoys little popular support, according to the polls, but neither Hudak nor Horwath - as rookie leaders - enjoy particularly high public profiles.
“McGuinty was always charismatically challenged,” said Barry Kay, a political science professor at Wilfrid Laurier University.
In keeping with McGuinty's self-styling as Ontario's “education premier,” the Liberals are, among other things, promising grants to ease the undergraduate tuition burden, more university spaces and all-day kindergarten.
Hudak's Progressive Conservatives are promising to cut taxes and government spending, although health care and education would both get more money.
The New Democrats are also talking about cutting taxes. The party wants to remove the provincial portion of the HST on home-heating bills and, in 2015, on hydro bills.