A Tim Hudak government would immediately roll back recent Liberal spending and put Ontario on track to balance its books, the Progressive Conservative Leader is promising, days ahead of a budget that could trigger a spring election.
In a meeting with The Globe and Mail’s editorial board Monday, Mr. Hudak for the first time spelled out exactly what the opening months of a PC government would look like, detailing a three-point plan for swift and radical change.
“We need a premier who is actually going to say ‘yes’ to taxpayers and ‘no’ to runaway spending. People are prepared for that,” he said. “If you’re about to lose your home, you can’t pay the mortgage because you’ve run up the credit card, a tough choice has to be made.”
On top of the spending cuts, Mr. Hudak also vowed to put a prompt stop to subsidies to wind and solar power projects in a bid to drive down electricity prices, and to start slashing regulations on business, including by abolishing the recently formed College of Trades.
This aggressively small-government agenda cuts a sharp contrast with the leftward tack Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Grits are taking. They have announced billions in new social and infrastructure spending ahead of Thursday’s budget and, government sources say, plan to run a larger deficit this year than last.
In a speech to a business audience Monday, Ms. Wynne rolled out the latest budget item, a new $2.5-billion fund to help businesses set up shop in the province over the next decade.
“I don’t believe that austerity is the right decision at this time,” she later told reporters. “I believe, and we can see, that investments are necessary to improve the economy, to expand the economy and that’s why our budget will propose these investments.”
Mr. Hudak said such business subsidies are one of the first things he would axe. He pointed to a $120-million grant the Liberals gave last week to successful Waterloo, Ont.-based OpenText, a software company planning to double its work force.
“It’s a very successful company … giving them $120-million is like handing out food vouchers in Rosedale – it’s not exactly needed for success,” he said. “Once you get into the handout business, once you put out your shingle and say ‘we’re giving away money to well-connected corporations,’ it’s been difficult to draw the line.”
Instead, Mr. Hudak said, he would cut taxes in hopes of encouraging private-sector investment. These tax cuts, he said, would be written into his first budget to send a signal to companies considering setting up shop in Ontario.
All of the ideas Mr. Hudak discussed Monday have been outlined by his party in a lengthy series of discussion papers over the past two years. But he had not previously said which of these policies would be part of his campaign platform, nor given a time frame for implementing them.
The Tories have long blamed lucrative wind and solar contracts, signed by the Liberals in an effort to build a green energy industry in the province, for driving up hydro bills. They also contend the College of Trades needlessly limits the number of tradespeople in the market, a frustration for businesses.
The deficit has bedevilled Ms. Wynne since she took office early last year. While she insists it can be erased on schedule by 2017-18, she is wary of cutting too deeply or of upsetting organized labour, which turned on her predecessor, Dalton McGuinty, when he imposed austerity measures on teachers.
Mr. Hudak, who is planning to freeze all wages across the public sector, has no such qualms. The unions were hardest on the Liberals, he argued, because they knew they could get them to back down. He said he will not have that problem.
“They’ll know who they’re dealing with,” he said. “I’ve been crystal clear about where I stand and what we need to do.”
And as for the people he may be asking to vote for him next month? They will, he said, be looking not for a leader they can love but for one they can trust to make the hard decisions he insists are necessary.
“There’s not going to be anything fancy about me,” he said. “I’ll admit I’m not the best actor on the stage, I’m not going to win any Oscars. But I’m not convinced people are looking for that.”