LONDON - Polkaroo may be an endangered species.
The beloved TVOntario mascot could be one of the 100,000 public service jobs that Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak will cut to balance the books.
Hudak, who wants to eliminate the province’s $12.5 billion budget deficit by 2016-17, repeatedly dodged questions Thursday about whether he would kill TVOntario outright if he wins the June 12 election.
The public broadcaster — operated by the Ontario Education Communications Authority, a Crown agency, and home to programs like, The Agenda With Steve Paikin — receives about $43 million a year in provincial funding.
“Is Polkaroo?” said Hudak, with a laugh when asked if the network’s familiar green and yellow polka-dot kangaroo could be on the chopping block as part of the 9,700 “non-teaching” education workers he will trim as part of his 100,000 public-service cuts.
“These are recommendations as you know . . . of the Drummond commission,” he said, referring to economist Don Drummond’s 2012 report to former Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty on streamlining government.
“We’ll look at Mr. Drummond’s recommendations for implementation.”
There is no mention of TVO in Drummond’s report, which urged billions in education cuts, including eliminating full-day kindergarten.
“If you’re asking me if we’re going to reduce bureaucracy wherever it exists in government to invest in front-lines the answer is yes,” said Hudak.
“If we can find middle managers we don’t need so we can protect the frontlines and improve them, the answer is always going to be yes to that.”
Hudak made his comments at a 2001 Audio Video store, where he was highlighting his promised 10 per cent reduction in income taxes starting in 2018 if he manages to balance the budget and win a second mandate.
Party officials said afterward it is too soon to say specifically what would have to be cut in the first term, including TVO.
Officials at the educational television network would not comment because they cannot weigh in on party platforms or political matters.
TVO also has a $13 million fee-for-service contract with the province to run the Independent Learning Centre, which delivers education programs to remote regions, and Homework Help to assist students with their math.
In Waterloo, Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne, a former education minister, emphasized her backing of the broadcaster and said it would continue if she is re-elected.
“TVO provides a huge educational service,” Wynne told reporters after touring the KidsAbility development centre, one of 30 children’s treatment centres that shared $5 million in the May 1 budget to reduce waiting times for treatment.
“I have been a staunch supporter and believer in TVO.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath chided both her main rivals for their policies on TVOntario.
“The Liberals made cuts to TVO and now Hudak would fire Polkaroo,” Horwath said in Toronto.
- With files from Rob Ferguson and Richard J. Brennan