Watch video above: Wynne, Horwath debate in northern Ontario, while Hudak promises wage freeze. Alan Carter reports.
PETERBOROUGH – Tim Hudak dodged questions as to why he chose to snub Monday’s televised leaders debate in northern Ontario, opting instead to visit a southern Ontario factory to warn he would freeze public-sector wages.
Hudak stuck to his message like Krazy Glue when repeatedly pressed on why he hadn’t found time to take part in the debate with Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne and their NDP counterpart, Andrea Horwath.
In fact, Hudak’s lone availability of the day – at a plant just north of Toronto he visited a few months ago – coincided exactly with Wynne-Horwath face-off in Thunder Bay.
The only reason the Tory leader has offered for his failure to participate has been a vague reference to a scheduling conflict he blamed on the inflexibility of the Northern Ontario Municipal Association.
“There’s been no leader who’s spent more time in northern Ontario than I have,” Hudak insisted.
“It doesn’t matter where you live in the province, you can agree with the government wage freeze.”
Speaking at the plant in Thornhill where workers had pay frozen for 10 years, Hudak said a Tory government would hold the line on pay for public-sector workers if he’s elected June 12.
The minimum two-year freeze would include politicians such as himself, Hudak said, before going on the attack.
He accused the Wynne government of throwing money at “entitled” union leaders solely to win their votes.
“I am not going to stand by and let the government union leaders continue to put us into bankruptcy,” Hudak said.
“Not on my watch.”
A two-year freeze, or until the budget is balanced, would save the government at least $2 billion a year, the Tories estimate.
In language reminiscent of the last Conservative regime under former premier Mike Harris in the mid-1990s, the Tory leader attacked “gold plated” pensions in the civil service and the arrogance of their union leaders.
Hudak did say he wanted to see development of the Ring of Fire in northern Ontario, an area believed to hold large mineral wealth, but quickly returned to his deficit-busting pledge, which includes axing 100,000 public-sector jobs.
At an earlier “town hall” meeting in Peterborough, the Tory leader thumped his pet themes of job creation and balancing the books, while repeating his mantra that tax cuts create jobs.
Hudak again pledged to make Ontario the lowest corporate tax-rate jurisdiction in North America, and to cut personal taxes 10 per cent after balancing the budget in 2016.
The local Liberal candidate said after the meeting that Hudak’s promise to slash public-sector jobs would be devastating to communities.
Apart from a lone heckler – said to be a New Democrat – the crowd was largely appreciative of the message.
© 2014 The Canadian Press