June 2, 2014 4:26 pm
Updated: June 3, 2014 2:23 pm

Ontario election: Candidates’ math is all wrong. Should you care?


TORONTO – Tim Hudak’s “million jobs” plan, Andrea Horwath’s job creation tax credit, Kathleen Wynne’s ambitious Ontario pension plan – all signature policies have come under fire for the most awkward of reasons: Their math is off. In some cases, way off. Like, by a magnitude of eight.

As a voter, should you care?

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PC leader Hudak said Monday that it doesn’t matter exactly how many jobs his so-called “Million Jobs Plan” will create – but that it will create jobs. (Even though research has shown that lowering corporate taxes is hardly a reliable way to “create” jobs)

“We can have a great argument over whether it’s going to create 80,000, 100,000, 120,000 or 150,000 jobs, the bottom line is, it’s going to create jobs,” he said.

But each facet of the plan is broken down to include an exact (or so we thought) number of jobs that it will create (cutting corporate taxes will apparently create 119,000, for example).

Ontario Election 2014: The Ontario Leaders Debate coverage

“I think the voters should care because it really increases the likelihood of them, especially if they’re unemployed, of them getting one of those jobs,” Western University economist Mike Moffatt said in an interview Monday.

“Basically, you just reduced the chance that you’re the one hired by a factor of eight.”

Hudak’s critics have pointed out that his plan conflates “person years” of employment – the number of people who would have work for a single year – with actual job growth to come up with the one million jobs.

“It’s not that they were using person years to mean jobs but literally they were adding two things together in two completely different units,” Moffatt said.

“If we were arguing between 120,000 and 150,000 then ok, those are fairly similar, it’s open to interpretation. But this is a large, large difference.”

Read More: What you may have missed in Hudak’s Million Jobs plan. 

For example, the study funded by the Conservative party suggests the corporate tax break will create 15,000 jobs – the Million Jobs plan says it will create 119,000.

The Liberals have tried to use the confusion to their advantage, issuing a somewhat tongue-in-cheek press release Monday suggesting Hudak’s 100,000 job cuts (mostly through attrition) equals 650,000 lost person-years of employment.

And the Progressive Conservatives have used the confusion to attack the Liberals as well. In a press release, the PCs pointed out the Liberals have too used person years to describe job creation.

“It’s not that the Liberal or NDP platforms are error free, probably far from it, but this is in sheer magnitude, this is a very, very large error,” Moffatt said.

It’s not just the Conservatives’ math that seems off; the NDP’s proposed tax credits have been questioned by a Macleans Magazine writer claiming it would more than double the average rate of net job creation over the last 10 years.

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And Wynne’s pension plan too may have some inconsistencies. Another writer for Maclean’s points out it may negatively affect the federal pensions of low-income Ontarians. The Liberal platform also seems to be contradictory; in one sentence it says the pension plan will be administered at arm’s length, while in another it hints the pension may be mandated to invest in Ontario businesses.

But polls suggest all that may not matter much to voters.

A  May 23 Ipsos-Reid poll found more than two-thirds – 67 per cent – of those surveyed didn’t think Hudak’s plan was “credible.” The scepticism is unsurprisingly highest among NDP (86 per cent) and Liberal (78 per cent) voters but almost three in ten (29 per cent) of Conservative voters didn’t have faith in Hudak’s Million Jobs. They plan to vote PC anyway.

“This is mainly a debate among economists,” said University of Toronto politics professor Nelson Wiseman.

Read More: Can politicians create jobs?

Wiseman pointed out most potential voters simply don’t vote and those that do don’t follow every step of the election campaign: They may be influenced by the debate, a personality, an ad, even something their partner tells them.

Or they may vote for one party regardless of what happens in the campaign.

“People already have a disposition, about who they like, who they’re going to vote for,” he said. “And those that don’t haven’t been reading any of these stories.”

And it seems voters are more concerned about tossing the Liberals out of office than anointing Hudak Ontario’s next premier: 72 per cent of those surveyed, according to Ipsos-Reid, are motivated by change in the premier’s office.

That poll, released May 23, found more of those surveyed supported Hudak as opposed to Kathleen Wynne or Andrea Horwath. This level of support was especially true among likely voters: 41 per cent of people who plan to vote supported the Progressive Conservatives, while only 29 per cent supported the Liberals.

At the same time, Wiseman admitted the mathematic-hiccup has likely hurt Hudak’s election campaign: It’s a key plank in Hudak’s campaign and something he touts every time he’s in front of a microphone.

“Rather than building support, it starts making him look like a one trick pony and it isn’t even clear if he can pull the trick off.”

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