TORONTO—The Progressive Conservatives’ suggestion that $12 billion could be cut from Ontario’s budget is “ridiculous,” Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne says as her party crystallizes its criticisms against the Tories’ newly unveiled election platform.
The recently announced PC plan reveals their platform six months ahead of the campaign and has also provided previews of what’s sure to be a consistent Liberal line of attack until the June vote.
The Tory platform says $12 billion in savings could be found over three years—$6 billion from cancelling Ontario’s cap-and-trade program and another $6 billion they say could be found from a value-for-money audit.
Liberal attacks have so far focused on those savings, particularly the audit, rather than specific policy planks such as tax cuts for the middle class, a refund for childcare expenses and a further 12 per cent cut to hydro bills.
“In my experience … efficiencies has always been code for cuts with Conservatives,” Wynne told The Canadian Press from China, where she is on a trade mission. “That is glaring as far as I’m concerned, so all the other things they talk about, they’re interesting, but we really have no idea what would actually be done.”
Deputy premier and Liberal campaign co-chair Deb Matthews suggested the Tory cuts will come from health care and education, because they form the largest parts of Ontario’s budget.
“My mother always used to say, ‘If it sounds too good to be true it probably is too good to be true,”’ she said. “I think that’s what we’re dealing with here.”
The Liberals have long been attacking Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown for not having a plan and suggesting he is harbouring a secret agenda. Now that his platform is out, Brown said their criticism of it seems disjointed.
“Maybe they didn’t expect my platform to be launched this weekend and so they’ve struggled to decide what they wanted to attack and they’re attacking for attacking’s sake,” Brown said over the phone from a campaign-style bus. He is spending the week touring the province to promote his new platform, rather than waiting for the campaign itself, he said.
“I guess the Liberals are making these ludicrous claims because they don’t want to talk about the substance of our platform. They don’t want to get into a debate about why the middle class deserves a tax cut, they don’t want to talk about our child care refund, a 75 per cent refund, they don’t want to talk about our hydro relief.”
The Tories had Kevin Page, the former federal parliamentary budget officer, look at their platform and he has deemed the underlying fiscal estimates “reasonable.”
By putting out the platform so early, there is a possibility the Liberals may just one-up all of their ideas, Progressive Conservative Todd Smith conceded.
“That’s one of the dangers of putting out your party platform this far in advance, but as you know there were howls for us to put our party platform out there for a long time and show just what Patrick Brown and the PCs do stand for,” he said.
Wynne’s government has touted its own form of a value-for-money audit—a program spending review—as one of the reasons it was able to eliminate the deficit, but the premier said that was done “in a very responsible way.”
“We looked at programs, we determined which ones are working, which ones we can consolidate … but it does not slash in one fell swoop $12 billion from program spending,” Wynne said.
“We are the leanest per capita program spending government in the country. The fact that we’ve done that actually makes Brown’s suggestion that there’s $12 billion that can be cut from the system even more ridiculous.”
The Tories point to past examples of what they call Liberal waste and mismanagement—such as cancelling gas plants at a cost of up to $1 billion—as evidence there is more to be found.