Ontario election: What does the New Democratic Party’s platform promise?
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify the NDP’s sanctuary province policy and correct that the claim that the plan to buy back Hydro One was not costed.
During the 2018 Ontario election campaign, the New Democratic Party has attempted to win votes by positioning itself as the alternative to decades of Liberal and Tory rule.
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But what exactly are the specifics of leader Andrea Horwath‘s plan, and how does the party compare? As part of a series on the platforms of the three main parties, here’s a look at the major planks of the NDP’s vision — and how the party says it would be paid for. (Check out the Progressive Conservative and Liberal plans here and here).
Spending and revenues
The NDP has released a five-year costed plan that projects deficits of between $3.5 billion and $6.4 billion.
The platform introduces a boost in annual spending of $5.4 billion in the first year of an NDP mandate, which ramps up to $15.8 billion in year five of the plan.
To pay for it all, the platform features several new or increased taxes. The plan is also based on a projection that provincial revenues will expand by nearly $17 billion through economic growth in four years.
The biggest source of new tax revenue, according to the party’s projections, is from increasing taxes on large corporations from the current 11.5 per cent to 13 per cent by 2020-2021. These measures are expected to add $2.2 billion annually once fully implemented.
Christine Van Geyn, Ontario director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said higher taxes, along with the NDP’s plan to go ahead with the Liberal $15 minimum wage and other labour reforms, could stunt business and employment.
“Adding another tax increase on top of all that has the potential to be really, really damaging,” she said.
There’s also a proposed increase on personal taxes. The NDP wants to boost tax rates for those making $220,000 by one percentage point, and two percentage points for earnings in excess of $300,000.
Combined with the federal tax, that would mean Ontario’s highest tax bracket rate would be 55.53 per cent, Van Geyn points out. Through these measures, the NDP expects to take in an additional $606 million in the first year.
Other tax measures include a 3 per cent charge on luxury car sales, a housing speculation tax, a plan to tax tobacco by its value rather than volume, and reforming the business education tax by introducing a uniform rate.
The NDP also said it would follow the recommendations of Ontario auditor general Bonnie Lysyk, who has sharply criticized the Liberals for accounting practices she says obscure the deficit by billions.
The high price of electricity became a hot-button issue long before the election, and the NDP plans to address it by decreasing rates by 30 per cent.
The party says it would do this by cancelling the Liberals’ Fair Hydro Plan and buying back Hydro One, roughly half of which is currently privately controlled.
Some experts have criticized this plan, saying it would be difficult and expensive to reverse course. Though it’s not known how much it would cost to restore the utility to full public ownership, the partial sale generated an estimated $9.2 billion for infrastructure under the Liberal government.
The NDP plans to buy back the shares using only hydro dividends over several years.
Health care and social services
By far, the biggest new, recurring spending items are on health care, childcare and social services — the word “health” appears in the 98-page platform 161 times.
A major policy is the introduction of child care at an average cost of $12 per day, or for free for those earning under $40,000. It comes with a promise to add 202,000 child care spaces. That move would cost $375 million in year one, and ramp up to $3.8 billion in the final year of the fiscal outlook.
Another one of the priciest annual commitments is an immediate hospital funding boost of 5.3 per cent, a policy the party said would help fix long wait times and end “hallway medicine.” The plan also earmarks $19 billion for hospital expansion over 10 years.
Two of the platform’s other cornerstone policies are also on health care — the universal dental and prescription drug plans.
The dental plan would set minimum standards for employer-provided coverage and make businesses offer plans that meet those standards, or they can choose to participate in a new public plan paid for by the employer and the employee. Those earning up to $50,000 could get some, or all, of their contributions refunded, on a sliding scale. The party said those on social assistance and seniors without health plans will be eligible for free care.
The pharmacare program makes 125 “essential medicines” available at no fee starting in 2020, at an annual cost of $475 million or more.
Critics argue that, like the Liberals’ OHIP+ initiative, this plan has the side effect of making what was a cost for businesses and insurers an expense for the public.
“I don’t know why you would want to interfere with a benefit that the private sector is already taking care of,” Van Geyn said.
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The party also wants to add 15,000 long-term care beds over five years, and the platform also commits to new funding for mental health, palliative care, cancer drugs, supportive housing, community health and much more. The NDP is also offering to create a new ministry that deals with mental health and addictions.
Another major item is boosting support for Ontario Works recipients by 10, 7 and 5 per cent. Those in the Ontario Disability Support Program would see annual payment increases of 5 per cent.
That move is in accordance with the recommendations of a major provincial government report on eliminating poverty released last fall, which the NDP has said it will endorse.
The party’s measures toward tackling income inequality in this platform have earned it the praise of some advocacy oranizations.
The group Health Providers Against Poverty evaluated each of the party platforms using five criteria: Indigenous rights, poverty and income security, employment and working conditions, affordable housing, and health and social services.
In their report, the NDP was awarded the highest grade, a B+. (The Liberals received a D+, the Green Party a C+; the PCs got an F).
“It’s clear that they’ve been listening to both experts in this field and clear that they’ve been listening to advocates like ourselves and other people when designing their platform,” said Dr. Jonathon Herriot, a resident family doctor and co-chair of the organization.
The party also earned the organization’s support for its commitments to build 30,000 supportive housing spaces and 65,000 units of affordable housing.
The NDP says it wants to overhaul the funding formula for schools, and put a moratorium on closures until a review takes place.
It also pledged to end Education Quality and Accountability Office standardized testing, cap kindergarten class sizes at 26 students, and invest $16 billion over a decade to address a backlog in school repairs.
Another big spending item is the party’s promise to convert Ontario Student Assistance Program loans to grants, and retroactively forgive the interest for anyone with a loan in repayment. That cost is the ballpark of half a million dollars each year, plus an additional one-time expense of $112 million to forgive loan interest.
The party platform also calls for a boost to post-secondary funding, starting with a hundred million dollars in the first year.
The NDP wants to please commuters by expanding subway and train service, particularly in southern Ontario.
The platform says an NDP government would provide year-round GO Transit service between Toronto and Niagara as well as two-way, all-day GO service between Kitchener and Toronto, and build Hamilton’s LRT “right away.”
Though the platform did not provide figures for how much these measures would cost, or clearly indicate how they would be paid for, the party plans to invest $180 billion in infrastructure over 10 years. Billions have already been earmarked for major transit infrastructure through cost sharing with the federal government as well.
The party also vowed to build a relief subway line for Toronto, and restore transit funding to municipalities at 50 per cent of operating costs. The latter move, the party said, would mean a bill of over $800 million per year.
And much more…
In addition to its main spending commitments, the NDP platform includes pledges on many other high-profile social, environmental and economic issues. Here are just a couple:
An NDP government said it would designate Ontario a “sanctuary province,” where anyone could access emergency health care regardless of their immigration status.
The party says it would end the police street checks known as carding — a practice widely condemned for targeting racialized communities — and introduce a $20-million dollar fund to fight racism.
There’s also action on Indigenous issues, including pledges to clean up mercury contamination in Grassy Narrows First Nation, earmark $200 million for indigenous health care, and follow the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The NDP said it would also declare opioid use a public health crisis and expand the availability of Naloxone.
The party wants to end “neighbourhood discrimination” in auto insurance and decrease premiums by 15 per cent.
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