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October 4, 2011

Oct 6: The Canadian Charger endorses the NDP

The Canadian Charger

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With many Ontarians tired of eight years of Dalton McGuinty at the helm, and Conservative leader Tim Hudak reminding voters of the dark days of the Mike Harris governments, which slashed taxes paid for it by closing hospitals and schools across the province, while declaring war on the poor, NDP leader Andrea Horwath is looking more and more like a viable alternative for those who want change.

While Liberals like to portray Mr. McGuinty as the only candidate with the experience to steer Ontario through these difficult economic times, his track record indicates otherwise. He's added $110 billion to the provincial debt, doubling it in eight years, while increasing government spending by 80 per cent. Moreover, after promising not to raise taxes, he brought in tax increases such as the HST and increased health and eco-taxes.

Now, 11 days before the election, Mr. McGuinty cancelled the Greenfield gas-fired power plant in Mississauga, at a cost to taxpayers of $500 million.

This comes in the wake of the cancellation of the gas-fired power plant in Oakville last year. Together the two cancellations will cost Ontario taxpayers $150 million per year over the next 20 years.

Add to this the $1 billion dollars the Liberal government wasted on eHealth and it is difficult to see why a new administration couldn't do better, even if it means just avoiding the pitfalls the McGuinty government has regularly fallen into.

The Liberals had Don Drummond, a leading Canadian economist, check over their financial forecasts and assumptions. He said in August: “Whoever forms the government on Oct. 7 is going to find themselves in a deep fiscal hole.”

At some point - and the sooner the better - the incumbent government has to assume responsibility for this fiscal mess.

Meanwhile, NDP leader Andrea Horwath said she will focus on three NDP priorities: Job creation, health care improvements, and affordability (HST reductions).

“If people want to know what role we’ll take — regardless of what mandate they give us on Oct. 6 — those are the things we’re going to focus on; those are the priorities we’re going to have in place, whether we are government or otherwise.”

Stopping corporate tax cuts is a major NDP demand after the last Liberal government started phasing in a reduction from 14 to 10 per cent. Capping government CEO salaries is another NDP policy Ms. Horwath feels will resonate with Ontarians, along with a “Buy Ontario” initiative, which is some ways echoes U.S. President Obama's call to “Buy American.”  She is also proposing a tax credit for every new permanent job created.

As part of her appeal to pocketbook concerns, Ms. Horwath makes no apologies for her controversial proposal to reduce the HST on gasoline, electricity and home heating bills.

“The taxation system has to be a fair one,” she said. “I don’t believe the mantra of all taxes is good.”

Education policy is another issue that Ms. Horwath differs with her rivals on. She wants to freeze tuitions and take the interest off of OSAP (Ontario Student Assistance Program) loans.

“We have the highest undergraduate student debt in Canada,” Ms. Horwath said. “We're committed to making post-secondary education accessible for more people.”

Uploading municipal services is one area where her policy is diametrically opposed to Mr. Hudak's.  He refuses to continue accepting provincial responsibility for services which Mike Harris dumped on Ontario's municipalities, so he could lower provincial taxes.

Meanwhile, Ms. Horwath is promising to freeze public transit fares and expand the local transit system by having the province take on half the municipalities' costs.

At the moment, Mr. Hudak’s numerous policy contradictions give voters further cause to be leery. He has promised that he’ll give municipalities more “respect” but he is prepared to saddle them with the continued burden of paying for $500 million of provincial welfare and court costs. (Both the Liberals and NDP have committed to removing these unfair costs from property taxpayers.)

Mr. Hudak's solution is to rein in local labour costs by toughening up the arbitration system to factor in government cost-cutting.

Arbitration is sacrosanct for New Democrats, and Ms. Horwath bristles at the PC proposal: “I don’t think he’s being honest about it, to be frank with you. Mike Harris tried to do that; it was not successful. I think you have to be honest about what you can and can’t achieve.”

Right now, Mr. Hudak is trying too hard to be all things to all people. He’s promising to spend more money on what Ontarians care about most – health care and education – while at the same time promising to reduce energy bills and lower taxes. The price tag for these benefits comes, in part, from unspecified cuts in “non-priority areas.”

With few details of where he will find at least $2.3 billion of savings, Mr. Hudak’s vow to cut “wasteful spending” feels a lot like Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s famous and thoroughly discredited complaints about a “gravy train” at city hall. Torontonians who were promised no service cuts and yet now face both the loss of many city services they value and a property tax increase, are unlikely to be so trusting again. And this vivid lesson that one man’s waste is another’s core service can’t have been lost on other Ontarians either.

Moreover, Mr. Hudak says he will rebuild the middle class and bring good jobs to Ontario, the kind “you can buy a house with.” But he will cut jobs in the green manufacturing sector and make it harder for unions, who traditionally fight for those good jobs, to operate. He wants Ontario to be the number one destination for new immigrants, but opposes Liberal plans to help foreign students, foreign companies and “foreign workers,” which – in this context - is a euphemism for new Canadians.

His job program is all old economy. Cut red tape, support small business, reduce business tax rates and dilute our labour laws.

While there are litanies of other issues of concern, in economically difficult times, the economy and jobs tend to take precedence. Liberal leader McGuinty's sorry economic record over the last eight years is compelling enough for Ontarians to be looking for a change. At the same time, many who remember the hospital closings - in particular – under Mike Harris, don't want to go back to that nightmare scenario, thus they're leery of Mr. Hudak – a man many see as a Mike Harris clone.

Why not give the reins to a progressive-minded leader such as Andrea Horwath? At least Ontarians can be certain she will maintain their vital services such as healthcare and education at a reasonable cost, while not unduly burdening the poor and working families to cover the costs.

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M. Elmasry

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