Tim Hudak’s Tories are taking a big gamble.
They are betting that Ontario voters are so fed up with Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government that they’ll opt for wrenching change on June 12.
They are betting that these same voters will overlook the fact that details of Hudak’s plan to create a million jobs don’t always add up.
Most of all, the Tories are betting that voters will agree to let Hudak axe 100,000 real public service jobs — ranging from teachers to college secretaries to nursing home caregivers to liquor store workers — in the hope of attracting new jobs that are, at this point, entirely hypothetical.
It is, as the Ontario Progressive Conservative leader likes to say, a bold vision.
It is also very risky.
A Forum Research poll released Tuesday estimates that 62 per cent of Ontarians disapprove of the centrepiece of Hudak’s plan — his promise to fire 100,000 public servants over the next two years.
At base, the Tory platform is boilerplate conservatism. Hudak argues that businesses are afraid to invest in Ontario — in part because the province is running a deficit and in part because electricity rates are too high.
He’d solve the electricity problem by getting rid of subsidies to wind and solar generators. He’d eliminate the $12.5 billion deficit by freezing public service wages, firing 100,000 employees and eliminating pensions for new hires.
But at the same time, he has promised to cut corporate tax rates by 30 per cent.
He would also build a new Toronto subway line south of Bloor St., expand GO service and end gridlock.
In spite of all this, he’d still wipe out the deficit within two years.
Hudak’s numbers don’t always add up. He says that ending what he calls corporate welfare would cover off the $3.1 billion cost of his business tax reduction.
Yet the public accounts indicate that Ontario’s ministry of economic development spends only about $1 billion a year on grants to business. Where would the extra $2 billion come from?
Even the million jobs figure is more metaphorical than real. Officially, Statistics Canada lists only 555,600 Ontarians as unemployed. Hudak explains that he is including in his tally so-called discouraged workers — those who have given up looking for work.
Yet when these are added in, the provincial jobless total reaches just 785,000.
That’s a lot of people out of work. But it is not one million.
His electricity numbers, too, seem out of whack. Hudak is right when he says that electricity rates in Ontario are higher than in neighbouring states and provinces.
But the reason for this difference is not high-priced wind and solar power. The Association of Major Power Consumers of Ontario, an industry group, calculates that wind and solar subsidies account for less than one per cent of electricity costs.
The real cost culprits, as my colleague John Spears reported last year, are the nuclear and natural gas generating plants. Nuclear refurbishment accounts for $2.6 billion of the annual $10-billion electrical generating bill. Gas plants add another $1.6 billion.
Yet Hudak would build more nuclear plants. How does that bring rates down?
Perhaps it’s churlish to question the details of the Tory platform. The Hudak grand plan is not meant as a serious blueprint. It is a concept, an idea in progress that probably owes more to communications consultants than serious policy analysts.
And the concept is simple: Liberals are bad. Public servants deserve to be fired.
Tories, meanwhile, are good. They will make many jobs. They will fire public servants.
Will this work for Hudak? On the one hand, a great many voters either work in the broader public sector or have relatives who do so. They may not appreciate his pledge to axe 100,000 jobs.
On the other, the Conservatives continue to do well in the polls. Forum Research has them down slightly since its last poll May 2. But, when the margin of error is taken into account, the Tories are still tied for first place with Wynne’s Liberals. It is a long time until election day.