Highlights: PC leader Tim Hudak lays out his campaign platform
TORONTO – The Progressive Conservatives laid out an aggressive plan Wednesday to slash program spending by six per cent – or $7.6 billion – over the next four years to kill Ontario’s $12.5-billion deficit, but insist they’ll still improve health care and education.
They’re planning a modest surplus of $319 million in 2016-17, then keep spending in line with population growth – if effect, promising no more deficits.
But voters will have to swallow some tough medicine if they want to see half a million more jobs created over the next eight years.
“Look, we have some tough choices to make,” said Tory Leader Tim Hudak.
“The next number of years are not going to be easy. Whenever you’re in a hole when it comes to jobs or debt, it’s going to be tough slogging. But the longer you postpone that, the deeper the hole gets, the tougher that job is.”
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On the chopping block are 100,000 jobs and any wage increases in the public sector, a 30 per cent tuition grant for college and university students and a tax credit of up to $1,500 a year for seniors who renovate their homes to make them more accessible.
They’d also get rid of the Ontario Clean Energy Benefit – which takes 10 per cent off hydro bills – but say their plans to slow the growth of energy costs will help ratepayers in the end.
The Tories plan to save money by eliminating hard caps on class sizes and a requirement for one early childhood educator for every 26 children in full-day kindergarten, as well as freeze the Ontario Child Benefit.
But they’ll raise targets for reading, writing and math, introduce a standardized test for Grade 8 science and aim to have kids spend 45 minutes of every school day doing physical activity.
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Their platform also promises more use of specialized math teachers in Grades 4 to 6 and financial incentives to attract more math and science grads to teaching.
Only health-care spending won’t be touched, they said, promising to expand the availability of home care and long-term care, allow specialty clinics to provide more services and let patients use their allotted health-care dollars to choose their own care provider.
To raise money for public transit and transportation infrastructure, the Tories said they’d sell off chunks of Crown corporations like the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, Hydro One and Ontario Power Generation to Canadian and Ontario pension plans.
The Tories are counting on the wage freeze to save the most money – about $2.1 billion a year. They also plan to review all government programs and cancel the ones that don’t work to save about $1.2 billion over four years.
Asked whether he could still implement his ambitious plan if workers resisted and went on strike, Hudak said he’d work with union leaders who wanted to help.
But he wasn’t very conciliatory in his platform, saying he’d make labour leaders “transparent and open” with their financial information, like charities and corporations, and give union members the right to a secret ballot in certification votes.
Some of his promises were lifted directly from expert advice the governing Liberals paid for, but didn’t adopt.
They included a pledge to go ahead with merging Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program to save money and look at ways to reduce administration costs, as recommended by a commission on reforming social assistance.