McGuinty taunts Tories over election 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)
The Canadian Press
Published Friday, February 4, 2011 4:23PM EST
OTTAWA - Premier Dalton McGuinty is taking aim at his Conservative rivals as he hunkers down for a Liberal pre-election policy powwow in Ottawa with the party faithful.
The Progressive Conservatives aren't releasing their election platform because they plan to slash services if they form the next Ontario government, he suggested Friday.
"That's my real concern. It's not so much any longer that they're not producing their plans," McGuinty said.
"It's the reason they're reluctant to produce those plans is because, in fact, they're premised upon cuts."
It's the "same story" voters heard before under the previous Tory government, he argued.
Once again, the Tories are promising to cut taxes while preserving health care and education, he said. Back then, when they formed government, they closed hospitals, fired nurses and provoked labour unrest in schools that affected kids' education across the province.
The premier said he knows the Conservatives are musing about a two per cent cut to the harmonized sales tax, which would deprive provincial coffers of $6 billion.
"Sixty-five per cent of all the money we spend in Ontario goes to health care and education," McGuinty said.
"You take $6 billion out of the system, you are going to affect our schools and you are going to affect our health care."
Opposition Leader Tim Hudak's recent comment that Ontario would look pretty much the same in 2015 under a Conservative government are "concerning" because the province can do better, McGuinty added.
"If he's for the status quo, that's great. Put that out there. Present that to Ontarians," he said.
"I think Ontarians, our families, our businesses are more ambitious than just that. They want something better than today."
It's the latest battle cry of the governing Liberals, who appear to have stepped up their campaign against their opponents in recent days.
During a speech Thursday to nurses, Health Minister Deb Matthews launched into a partisan attack on the Tories for slashing health-care spending when they were in power from 1995 to 2003.
She accused Hudak of harbouring plans to eliminate the health premium of up to $900 per worker, which would force the government to make major cuts to health care.
The Tories fired back, saying Matthews was deliberately misleading nurses and that Hudak never promised to scrap the unpopular premium that McGuinty introduced in his first term.
However, the Liberals distributed copies of an article from 2008 in which Hudak called for the health tax to be eliminated.
Matthews, who spoke to reporters immediately after McGuinty, said she's not convinced that the Tories won't scrap the premium.
"I would like to hear that directly from Tim Hudak's lips," she said.
All options are on the table as the Progressive Conservatives prepare their platform, but they won't reduce health-care spending, said Conservative critic Lisa MacLeod.
The party won't be "bullied" by McGuinty into putting out their platform prematurely, she added.
"He's fear-mongering, they're lying, they're going to do whatever they can, because the reality is they have no traction with the Ontario public," she said.
Instead of taking potshots at each other, the Liberals and Tories would be better off listening to what voters have to say, said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
"I think it's quite ironic that the Liberals are taunting the Conservatives about tax cuts when they're cutting corporate taxes," she said.
"What the heck have they just done? They've just done the same thing."
All three major parties seem to be at a standoff over their election ideas, with none willing to pull the trigger on their platforms out of fear it will give the others an advantage.
The Liberals are expected to hammer something out this weekend that will set the stage for the Oct. 6 election, but it's unclear when the public will see it.
McGuinty argues voters already know where the Liberals stand because they've already given them "a strong indication" about what they want to do.
The premier has even taken the Liberal show on the road, pitching his government's accomplishments and plans for economic growth in a slickly produced -- though meandering -- 40-minute presentation to business groups across the province.
His government's legacy can't be explained in a brief sound bite, he added. But MacLeod said she can sum it up in seven seconds.
"It's higher taxes, it's higher hydro rates and it's higher unemployment," she said.
Horwath said there's always concern about the timing of a platform release due to worries opponents will poach the best ideas.
So far, the New Democrats have promised to remove the harmonized sales tax from electricity and home heating bills if they're elected. Voters will likely have a better idea of where all three parties stand by early summer, Horwath said.