NDP platform reality check: Stop us if you’ve seen this transit plan before

TORONTO – NDP leader Andrea Horwath released her campaign platform Thursday, promising more transit, higher corporate taxes, lower hydro costs and a tuition freeze.

Here are some details you may have missed.

Does the NDP transit plan sound familiar? It should.

The party plans to spend $29 billion over ten years on transit and transportation.

Where have we heard that before? Oh, right: It’s the same amount the Liberals promised in their 2014 budget. In fact, the NDP’s plan for building transit is to go ahead with the Liberal plan and just add $250 million. The NDP called to clarify that this would be through savings.

The party does point out that it will prioritize certain projects – all of them already proposed or on the province’s agenda – including the relief subway line.

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Tax credits don’t last forever

Horwath has touted her plan to reward companies that create jobs and invest in infrastructure with $250 million in tax credits annually, rather than cut corporate taxes across the board.

But here’s the fine print: Those would only last two years.

In Depth: Ontario Election 2014

 Will the Minister of Savings and Accountability also be handing out pink slips?

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The NDP platform says the new Minister of Savings and Accountability will be able to find up to $600 million a year. How? Trimming cabinet by 1/3 – the NDP wouldn’t say which positions get the axe, although a spokesperson used merging health and seniors as an example – capping public sector CEO pay at twice the premier’s pay (approximately $418,000), merge overlapping hydro agencies and “rebalancing staff to management ratios in the public service.”

That last one sounds a lot like firing managers and that’s what it is. The NDP however is quick to point out there will be more frontline staff.

The Financial Accountability Office

Sounds similar to the Minister of Savings and Accountability. But it’s not. This would be an independent office charged with holding government accountable and transparent similar to what Kevin Page did in Ottawa. The office was actually created by the Liberal government (as per an NDP demand) in the 2013 budget but never staffed. The NDP is promising to staff it.

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In fact, Page applauded the FAO.

“I think the Financial Accountability Officer initiative can promote fiscal transparency and the use of financial analysis in debate, scrutiny and accountability. More importantly, this is the opinion of the OECD and the IMF: independent fiscal institutions can help.”

But is it necessary? University of Toronto professor Nelson Wiseman suggested the office was little more than “a gimmick.”

“Who’s against accountability? So you throw something out like that. I don’t think it’ll have much traction because of the cynicism that’s out there about accountability,” he said, adding that the management committee of cabinet and the finance department are already charged with tracking public dollars.

Putting the brakes on pipelines – including Line 9?

The platform promises $2-million a year for environmental assessments on pipelines that would go through Ontario – significant because many have criticized the federal government for watering down its own EA requirements before pipelines get approved. A party spokesperson used Enbridge’s Line 9 as an example, which suggests the NDP would revisit a project the National Energy Board has already approved.

Obliging resource companies to process – and hire – local

The NDP says it would ensure Ontario “benefits from value-added processing jobs.” An NDP government wouldn’t force contractors to hire locally but would certainly suggest it. Whether this would dissuade anyone from coming here is an open question.

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Is Horwath promising a $700 million yearly surplus?

The NDP is suggesting their platform will generate $770 million more than the investments will cost. They aren’t promising a yearly surplus but said the extra money can be used to provide a contingency in the event of unforeseen economic circumstances or to pay down the deficit.  They are projecting a $800 million surplus by 2017-2018.

Cracking down on the “underground economy.”

The NDP is also promising to crack down on Ontario’s “underground economy” by hiring “tax law enforcement” to enforce regulations province-wide. We think the term “underground economy” is exciting. But they did not say who would do this extra cracking down. The recommendation is from the Drummond Report, which stated that along with cracking down on contraband tobacco, this could bring in $2 billion. The NDP platform suggests “revenue integrity measures” could bring in $230 million in 2014-2014 and $800 million in 2017-2018.

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