McGuinty open to new ideas on campaign platform
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty gestures as he speaks to members of the media in Ottawa on Friday, Feb. 4, 2011. The Ontario Liberal Party is holding its 2011 Platform Provincial Council meeting in Ottawa. (Pawel Dwulit / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
OTTAWA - Premier Dalton McGuinty says there's still room in his election platform for new ideas, even though the Liberals haven't ticked everything off their lengthy to-do list.
"When it comes to me, there's always new ideas," he said late Saturday during a policy conference in Ottawa.
"Somebody often has to sit on me so we don't put them out too quickly."
That won't be necessary this time. McGuinty refused to divulge any details that were floated behind closed doors during the weekend conference, which is expected to get the ball rolling for the fall election campaign.
"I'm not going to comment on any one in particular, but I can tell you that generally speaking, there's a real focus on growing this economy, there's a focus on health care ... and education," McGuinty said.
A policy committee will collect those ideas -- from tackling care for an aging population, to making it easier for students to get a college or university education -- as it crafts a platform for the Oct. 6 vote. The Liberal campaign team, led by veteran Liberal Greg Sorbara, will oversee the process.
None of the three major parties have unveiled their election platforms yet, most likely because they fear that revealing anything too soon will give their opponents an advantage. But much of the Liberal platform seems to have already been written.
McGuinty hasn't fully rolled out full-day kindergarten -- widely considered the self-described education premier's legacy project -- and updating the province's electricity system with renewable energy and new nuclear reactors will take years to implement.
And with the province expected to bleed red ink until 2018, the Liberals can't really afford any big new programs.
But while McGuinty may be keeping a tight lid on policy, the general thrust of his platform -- and the Liberals' election strategy -- was clearly on display over the weekend.
Speaking to about 200 party members, McGuinty delivered a 40-minute speech that played to his government's strengths -- such as boosting public services like education and health care -- while trying to minimize controversies like soaring electricity bills and the harmonized sales tax.
Keeping voters tuned in to that message, rather than opposition attacks on dwindling family budgets, may be key to winning a historic third term. Judging by the high-definition cameras capturing McGuinty's every move on stage, the brain trust behind his re-election bid believe it will resonate with voters this fall.
McGuinty has also stepped up his attacks on the Progressive Conservatives in recent days, warning that the Tories -- like former premier Mike Harris before them -- will slash health care and education to meet their promise of lower taxes.
Voters should "jog their memories" and remember all the school days lost due to labour unrest, the hospitals that were closed and the nurses who lost their jobs when the Tories were in charge between 1995 and 2003, he said.
"So when they step forward and say, 'Don't worry about it, we've got this covered. We'll just cut taxes and everything else will be just fine,' I'd ask Ontarians just to remember that they said that last time, and look what happened then," McGuinty said.
The Conservatives were quick to respond to McGuinty's comments.
The premier is so busy fighting an election from 15 years ago that he's lost touch with what voters want now, said Conservative critic Lisa MacLeod.
"The reality is, Ontario families are telling us that they want tax relief," she said.
"He's not listening. We are."
Meanwhile, the NDP responded to the premier with criticism of their own.
It's "pretty rich" for McGuinty to be scaremongering about tax cuts, when his government just handed out $2.2 billion in cuts to corporations, said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
"Everywhere I go, people are still saying that the affordability of everyday life is a top priority," she said in an interview from Thunder Bay.
"The government can do what they will to take people's minds off those basic realities, but people are worried about the future."