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Pharmacare, tax freeze and health-care spending feature in Ontario NDP platform

Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath delivers her Ontario provincial election campaign platform in Toronto on Monday, April 25, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath delivers her Ontario provincial election campaign platform in Toronto on Monday, April 25, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
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Accelerated pharmacare, a freeze on income tax for certain residents and hiring tens of thousands of health-care and education workers were among the key promises in the election platform unveiled by Ontario's New Democrats on Monday.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the platform is packed with practical steps to make life more affordable and fix what's "broken" in health-care and other systems.

"Government just hasn't been working for people and COVID really exposed that. Now, folks aren't asking for the moon and the stars. They just want someone who really gets what they're going through, and they haven't had that in a while," Horwath said at the platform launch event in Toronto, flanked by candidates and union representatives, some of them wearing health worker scrubs.

"The good news is it doesn't have to be this way. We can fix what matters most to people."

Horwath framed her rival Liberal and Progressive Conservative parties as ineffective at improving things and accused them of making life more expensive under their governments.

That's also how she explained similarities between her party's platform and promises made by the Liberals, who like the NDP are pledging to raise the minimum wage, pilot a four-day work week , offer electric vehicle rebates and cover HIV medication.

"They had 15 years," Horwath said, referring to previous Liberal governments. "They'll say something that they think sounds good during a campaign, but when they're in office, they just don't focus on the things that matter most to people. We'll fix that."

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Horwath and NDP party officials said full costing details for the platform would come later in the campaign, after the Progressive Conservative government introduces a budget on Thursday ahead of an expected election call.

The NDP decided residents deserve to know what the party's plans are in the absence of budget figures, Horwath said. She also declined to say whether her party would aim to balance the budget within four years, citing the need to know what's in the upcoming Tory budget.

If elected in June, the New Democrats promise to move ahead with providing drug coverage for Ontarians before the federal Liberal government moves on its plan, starting by covering a baseline of 125 medications.

The pharmacare plan, which the NDP also promised in the 2018 election, includes pledges to cover birth control and HIV treatment and prevention medication.

The party said it will also work to "accelerate" the proposed federal dental coverage plan and expand it to cover more people. Horwath didn't give a timeline for when the drug and dental coverage would be available but said the aim is to do that "as soon as possible."

 Another health-care promise is a commitment to raise funding for hospitals, including increasing base operating funding by 3.5 per cent, something the Ontario Hospital Association has asked for and costed at $735 million.

The NDP also promises to hire 10,000 personal support workers and give them a raise, as well as hire 30,000 nurses, 400 doctors and specialists for northern Ontario and expedite credential recognition for 15,000 internationally trained nurses.

There is also a promise to hire 20,000 teachers and education workers. At Monday's launch event, Horwath generated the loudest applause from candidates and supporters when she repeated the NDP's commitment to scrap legislation capping public sector wages at one per cent annually.

The platform also updated a previous NDP announcement on housing, and now targets building 100,000 social housing units for $493 million annually, and 60,000 supportive housing units for $100 million annually.

There's also a pledge to freeze income taxes on low-income and middle-income households for four years and promise to reintroduce rent control for apartments.

The party said the details of the income tax freeze have not been finalized but the cut off for individuals would likely be close to $200,000 per year and close to $250,000 for households. Horwath also hinted that the plan would involve higher taxes for high-earning individuals and companies.

"There is absolutely no way that we will increase taxes on lower income families and middle class families. People are having a hard enough time already," she said. "Having said that, the wealthiest Ontarians, the most profitable corporations, many of whom did very well during this pandemic, are going to be asked to pay their fair share."

The platform also included a series of other pandemic-related promises, including the intention to hold an independent inquiry into COVID-19, expand available sick days for workers and establish a plan for business supports in the event of future public health restrictions.

There's also a promise to support Ontarians who are experiencing long COVID by ensuing they are supported by primary care providers and funding research into the condition.

On the issue of electoral reform, the NDP is proposing to create a "mixed member proportional voting system" that will be designed by an independent group and supported by experts members of major provincial parties.

The platform also promises to work to end boil water advisories in First Nations communities, create and Indigenous housing strategy and work with Indigenous communities to establish community control of child welfare.

Other aspects of the NDP's platform have been already been detailed in the lead-up to the campaign, including plans to cover mental health care under OHIP and phase out for-profit long-term care ownership.

The party also promised to raise the minimum wage to $16 per hour in 2022, rising to $20 in 2026, and has laid out an environmental platform costed at $40 billion that aims to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, among other goals.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 25, 2022.

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