CAMBRIDGE, ONT. - Taking aim at a Progressive Conservative riding, Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne charged the Tories would axe 22,000 teachers and education workers in their plan to cut 100,000 public sector jobs.
“That would put kids at risk,” she told reporters in the library of St. Elizabeth Catholic School on Monday after reading to a class of kindergarten pupils.
The appearance was a shot at Cambridge Conservative MPP Rob Leone, a former university professor and his party’s education critic in the last parliament, as Wynne campaigns in the final days leading up to Thursday’s vote.
“This is a very tight election,” she said after accusing the Conservatives of wanting to take Ontario back to the days of labour chaos and cutbacks in schools under former premier Mike Harris.
“There’s absolutely no doubt there’s two options facing people,” added Wynne, appearing with Guelph incumbent Liz Sandals, who has been her education minister, and Cambridge candidate Kathryn McGarry, a nurse.
“The next three, four days I’m going to be doing everything I can . . . to make it clear what that choice is.”
Wynne said she’s worried that “student success teachers” who spot and coach students with difficulties, could lose their jobs after helping improve graduation rates to 83 per cent from 68 per cent when the Liberals took power in 2003.
“It’s about the people in the system who may not be what Tim Hudak calls classroom teachers . . . but they are the people who make it possible for kids to succeed,” Wynne said, continuing to frame Thursday’s vote as a two-way race between her and the Conservatives.
Hudak has said trimming 100,000 jobs over the next four years, partially through attrition, would reduce employment in Ontario’s “bloated” public sector to 2009 levels and help the Tories eliminate the $12.5 billion deficit by 2017, a year earlier than with Wynne or New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath.
With interest on the provincial debt the third largest expense after the health and education ministries, Hudak maintains the province can no longer afford to go deeper into the red.
He has said teachers will not be exempt from his cuts, prompting the Liberals to say a number of Conservative candidates have said the opposite in public statements.
Wynne, who has the support of a number of public sector unions in the election, insisted Hudak’s approach is too drastic.
“When I hear the political conversation about 100,000 jobs being cut . . . that very quickly for me comes down to, well, which teachers, which education assistants, which early childhood educators, would no longer be in the system,” Wynne said.
“Would these kids here have the support that they need?”
After the Cambridge stop, Wynne headed to Stratford in the Perth-Wellington riding that former cabinet minister John Wilkinson lost to Conservative Randy Pettapiece in 2011 by a slim margin of just over 200 votes as the Liberals were reduced to a minority under former premier Dalton McGuinty.
The Liberal campaign visits London, home to Wynne’s health minister Deb Matthews, later in the afternoon, including a stop in London West — a riding the Liberals lost to New Democrat Peggy Sattler in an August 1, 2013 byelection.