TORONTO—Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak has only one thing on his Christmas wish list: a spring election, and it’ll be up to the New Democrats to decide if he will get what he’s hoping for.
“I think we need change in the province,” Hudak said in a year-end interview.
Less than a year after being sworn-in as premier, Kathleen Wynne is in no rush for a general election, and said she wants to keep the 10-year-old Liberal government alive for a while yet.
“I’m going to continue to work to make the minority Parliament function,” said Wynne. “We’ve passed 13 or 14 pieces of legislation, which nobody thought we were going to be able to do, so I’m going to continue to do my job, and when it’s time for an election we’ll all be clear about that.”
The New Democrats kept the minority Liberals alive by striking deals for significant changes in the provincial budget each of the last two years, but the party is concerned by what it sees as government foot dragging on promises to cut auto insurance rates by 15 per cent and create a financial accountability office.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she plans to consult voters before the legislature resumes Feb. 21 to see if the party should stop propping up the minority government.
Wynne could test the electoral waters before next spring’s provincial budget, which will be a confidence vote, by calling byelections in Niagara Falls and Thornhill. She must call the Niagara vote by the end of March, and all three parties are putting big efforts into what had been a Liberal riding. The Toronto riding of Thornhill had been Conservative, and is seen as a two-way race between the Tories and Liberals.
The Liberals want to introduce an Ontario Pension Plan, which would require increased contributions from employers and workers, after they failed to convince the federal government to enhance the CPP to virtually double benefits.
They also are considering a recommendation to increase the provincial tax on gasoline by up to 10 cents a litre to raise the billions of dollars needed to fund public transit expansion and help ease gridlock in the Toronto-Hamilton area.
Both the PCs and NDP vow to block any new taxes or fees to fund transit, but Wynne believes voters know action must be taken now or future generations will look back in anger at what wasn’t done.
The Tories want to make union membership and dues voluntary with so-called right-to-work legislation, which the Liberals and NDP say means the right-to-work-for-less, and is an attack on organized labour.
The Liberals must be held accountable for the $1.1 billion spent to cancel two gas plants, the OPP investigation of deleted emails into the projects, a second police investigation into the Ornge air ambulance service, the $9.3 million paid to Ornge CEO Chris Mazza and exorbitant salaries at provincial energy agencies, said Horwath.
Wynne has apologized for the way the gas plants were handled—something former premier Dalton McGuinty refused to do—and said the government learned “painful lessons” from the projects. She also promised legislation to put hard caps on compensation packages for public sector executives.
Hudak has been itching for another election since the Tories blew a big lead in the polls heading into the October 2011 campaign, in which the Liberals were re-elected to a third term but reduced to a minority government. He’s trying to counter criticism that he just doesn’t connect with Ontario voters.