NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is dangling a bag of goodies before Ontario voters, everything from more snowplows to a tuition freeze and extra cash for Greater Toronto transit expansion, but is really hoping that voter anger and fatigue over Liberals scandals make the difference for her party on election day.
The New Democrats took the wraps off their election platform Thursday, a mix of populist pledges and promises that plainly echo some Liberal commitments.
Despite the policy similarities, Horwath is betting that anger at the Liberals and their costly controversies will push voters into her corner on June 12.
“You deserve a better government than that. It is not inevitable that Ontario is governed by a party that disrespects you and disrespects your tax dollars,” she told enthusiastic supporters at a Toronto gathering.
“We can do better,” she said during her platform unveiling at Hart House at the University of Toronto.
The NDP platform outlines commitments to freeze undergraduate tuition rates at 2014 levels and make the provincial portion of student loans interest-free. It also commits to a 15 per cent cut to auto insurance rates within the first year of an NDP government.
There is the promise of new spending to hire 250 nurse practitioners and establish 50 24-hour family health clinics to take the pressure off hospital emergency rooms and cut wait times in half.
The NDP say they will eliminate the provincial portion of the HST on electricity bills, saving homeowners an average of $120 a year and costing the provincial coffers $815 million a year by 2017.
And as first reported by the Star, the NDP would bring in a tax credit for caregivers looking after ill or elderly family members.
In contrast to the Progressive Conservatives, who have vowed to cut 100,000 public service jobs, New Democrats are promising to hire up to 1,000 new health and physical education teachers, and up to 1,000 more educational assistants to work in the classrooms.
To help pay for the pledges, party says it will implement a “modest” increase in general corporate tax rate to 12.5 per cent from 11.5 per cent though NDP officials say Ontario will still have a “competitive” tax rate.
But the NDP is also promising to cut the tax rate for small businesses and bring in the job creation tax credit, which it claims will spur 170,000 new jobs.
One significant pledge missing from the NDP platform is a commitment to a made-in-Ontario pension plan to supplement the Canada Pension Plan.
Such a plan had been a priority for the New Democrats and was included in the most recent provincial budget, which was scuttled by the NDP decision to pull its support of the minority Liberals.
Quizzed about the omission, Horwath said that with a federal election in 2015, the priority should be on pressing Ottawa to make enhancements to the CPP.
“This crisis in retirement income, in pensions, faces everybody across Canada so a national solution is what makes sense,” Horwath told reporters.
“However, if it doesn’t come forward . . . New Democrats are prepared to look at an Ontario solution,” she said.
Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne said she was “surprised” that the NDP platform did not contain some kind of pension plan, adding, “I would have thought she would have seen that as an issue.”
Yet the pension plan is the one glaring difference between the two parties that otherwise appear to share many of the same priorities, on issues like raising the minimum wage, hourly raises for personal support workers in home care and the promise of $29 billion in funding for transit and transportation.
Pressed why she forced an election when the Liberal budget promised action on many of those issues, Horwath said that Ontario residents “deserve a better government.”
“I think Ontarians are tired of this Liberal government. They’re tired of the waste and scandal,” she told reporters.
But Liberal candidate Brad Duguid said Horwath’s decision to force a vote cost the NDP a chance to see progress on its agenda and opened the door to a possible Progressive Conservative government.
“Most of what she’s put in this platform document, most of the objectives could have easily been accomplished had she supported the Liberal budget and not plunged us into an unnecessary, expensive election campaign,” Duguid said.
And in a taste of the Liberal rhetoric to come, Duguid claimed that only a vote for the Liberals can stop Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak from forming government.
“If Ontarians do not support the Liberals in this election, we run the risk of a Tim Hudak government that is going to lay off 100,000 people, place our economic recovery at risk,” Duguid said.
The cost of the NDP platform will total $2.9 billion by 2017. But that is more than offset by $3.7 billion in new revenue the NDP project they will see through measures such as the higher corporate tax rate ($760 million), cutting the use of consultants ($160 million) and appointing a “minister of savings and accountability” to find $600 million in savings.
Though the party was short on specifics about where those savings would come from, Gilles Bisson, the NDP candidate in Timmins-James Bay, said the number is realistic and said there is a lot of “duplication of services” in government operations that could be streamlined.
“It’s not a question of losing jobs in the public sector,” Bisson told reporters.
The New Democrats say they will balance the provincial books by 2017-18, leaving a financial cushion of more than $700 million a year.
The platform was released as a new poll by Ipsos Reid showed that the NDP was at 28 per cent, the PCs were at 35 per cent and the Liberals were at 31 per cent, among decided voters. That compares to a Forum Research poll also released Thursday that has the Liberals with 41 per cent, the PCs with 34 per cent and the NDP with 20 per cent.
- With files from Richard J. Brennan