Ontario Conservatives are proposing big changes to the way the province's welfare system works, including a suggestion recipients be given debit-style food cards that can't be used to buy booze or cigarettes.

At a news conference Thursday morning, Conservative Party Leader Tim Hudak said the proposed changes are aimed at overhauling a system he believes is long-outdated and does little to encourage peoples' return to the workforce.

Highlights of the 12 "paths to prosperity" outlined in the 22-page Tory "white paper" introduced Thursday include:

  • rolling Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program into one agency with streamlined rules;
  • submitting all social programs to "value-for-money" audits;
  • opening up social program delivery to non-profit agencies, charities or the private sector;
  • a requirement for individualized employment plans that detail the monthly activities required to qualify for income support;
  • steadily declining benefits, to discourage long-term reliance on welfare cheques;
  • the implementation of a "benefits-directed debit smart card system" to ensure benefits are spent on essential food items rather than other expenses.

"We have plenty of examples to look at out there. We’re suggesting this is a path we could go down, so let's see what the best practices are, how it can save taxpayers' money, and ensures the dollars goes to the purposes taxpayers sent them in for," Hudak said.

When asked whether the suggestions form the basis of a Conservative election campaign platform, Hudak said they are simply ideas he's putting out there for discussion, not promises in the event he's elected to the premier's office.

With files from CTV Toronto's Paul Bliss