Raising the spectre of the deadly Walkerton water tragedy on its 14th anniversary, Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne warned that Tim Hudak’s plan for 100,000 public sector job cuts could have dangerous fallout.
“Decisions have consequences, sometimes more than we could know, sometimes worse than we could fear,” Wynne warned Thursday at the Walkerton Clean Water Centre, where technicians from across Ontario are now trained.
She denied suggesting the province is in for a repeat of the Walkerton tainted water disaster if the Progressive Conservatives — who were in power when seven died and 2,500 were made ill by water tainted with E. coli bacteria — are elected June 12.
“No leader of this province would ever consciously or intentionally follow a policy that would risk another tragedy,” Wynne told reporters after promising $30 million in funding for the centre over the next 10 years.
“At the same time, it is equally important to recognize that decisions have consequences,” she added in a line she used repeatedly.
The Liberal leader has been hammering at Hudak’s plan for days, saying it could plunge the province into recession and gut government services — including water and meat inspectors and teachers — that Ontarians have come to expect, given that the Tory leader has exempted only doctors, nurses and police from pink slips.
In London, Ont., Hudak insisted water inspectors would not be part of the jobs he would cut over the next four years to eliminate the deficit and boost private-sector employment.
“I don’t think anybody would even contemplate that,” he said, accusing Wynne of crass electioneering in the town a two-hour drive north of London.
“We all know as Ontarians that Walkerton was a tragedy,” Hudak, who was a minister in the Harris government, said during a campaign stop at a video store.
“But I think it’s rather sad to see the premier of Ontario trying to take advantage of that for political gain.
“I expected better from Kathleen Wynne. I’m very disappointed. That sounds like the kind of tactic that Dalton McGuinty would use.”
Wynne was skeptical of Hudak’s new promise to exempt water inspectors.
“I can’t tell you what Mr. Hudak is going to put on the table or off the table,” she said later at a child development centre in the NDP-held riding of Kitchener-Waterloo. “I don’t know how narrow that list will become . . . he’s going to have to answer for that.”
Wynne brushed aside the Tory leader’s criticism she was exploiting the Walkerton tragedy.
“I believe it is important we learn the lessons . . . I would venture the people in this community want that lesson to be learned,” she told reporters.
A commission of inquiry headed by Justice Dennis O’Connor in 2002 said the tainted water problem was preventable and blamed cutbacks in the 1990s by the Harris government and shoddy work by some local water treatment staff who did not realize water was contaminated by agricultural runoff during a heavy rainstorm.
Hudak said a Conservative government would follow the Liberals’ lead and continue to fund the Walkerton water centre.
In Toronto, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath called Hudak’s plan for civil service cuts “irresponsible.”
“It just doesn’t make sense. When you talk about kicking 100,000 . . . to the curb you are actually endangering the services that Ontarians rely on,” Horwath said.
Polls in the early days of the campaign show varying results. A Forum survey in the Star on Tuesday put the Liberals at 38 per cent, the Conservatives at 35 and the NDP at 21 after Hudak introduced his promise to cut 100,00 jobs. On Wednesday, a different poll by Ipsos Reid had the Tories at 39 per cent, the Liberals at 30 and NDP at 24.
- With files from Richard J. Brennan