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Ontario Liberal party leadership candidates (left to right) Glen Murray, Charles Sousa, Harinder Takhar, Eric Hoskins, Kathleen Wynne, Sandra Pupatello and Gerard Kennedy take part in a debate in Thunder Bay, Ont., Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012. (Brent Linton/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Ontario Liberal party leadership candidates (left to right) Glen Murray, Charles Sousa, Harinder Takhar, Eric Hoskins, Kathleen Wynne, Sandra Pupatello and Gerard Kennedy take part in a debate in Thunder Bay, Ont., Sunday, Dec. 9, 2012. (Brent Linton/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Ontario leadership contenders liberal with campaign promises Add to ...

Affluent seniors would be billed for prescription drugs, the minimum wage would be bumped up and temporary workers would be better protected. These promises were among a flurry of announcements made on Monday by the Ontario Liberal leadership contenders, who hold their fifth all-candidates debate in Ottawa Tuesday evening.

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ERIC HOSKINS, 52

The working poor in Ontario would get free prescription drugs but affluent seniors would be billed for their medications, under Eric Hoskins’s plan to tackle poverty.

Currently, millionaire seniors have their drugs paid for, just as a senior on a meagre fixed income does. Under Dr. Hoskins’s proposal for income testing, only those seniors in need would have their drugs subsidized. At the same time, other Ontarians who cannot afford prescription drugs would get the support they need, regardless of whether they’re working or on social assistance.

“There are too many people stuck on social assistance because they can’t afford to lose their drug coverage,” Dr. Hoskins said in a speech on Monday to the Economic Club of Canada, where he outlined his plan for a healthy economy.

He vowed to eliminate roadblocks to help people get off social assistance and increase the minimum wage to ensure that no adult working full time lives below the poverty line.

For Dr. Hoskins, a medical doctor and one of seven candidates in the race to replace Premier Dalton McGuinty, supporting job creation and providing tangible relief for families in need go hand-in-hand.

“You cannot have one without the other,” he said.

Dr. Hoskins would also apply income testing to the province’s universal children’s activity tax-credit program, for such things as swimming lessons.

“Wealthy families don’t need the fifty bucks,” he said.

KATHLEEN WYNNE, 59

Kathleen Wynne, a front-runner in the race to succeed Mr. McGuinty, wants to expand eligibility to the province’s drug program. As part of her health-care plan announced on Monday, Ms. Wynne would phase in universal access to certain prescription drugs, such as those that reduce the risk for second heart attacks.

The $4.4-billion Ontario Drug Benefit Program pays for prescriptions of those aged 65 and older and those on social assistance. Many patients who need medication but cannot afford it end up in an emergency department when they get sick, Ms. Wynne said, after a tour of Toronto East General Hospital. It would actually be more cost effective for the health-care system to provide medication free of charge instead of treating a patient in a hospital, she said.

Many of Ms. Wynne’s proposals, including expanding mental-health services, build on the initiatives of Health Minister Deb Matthews, who is supporting her leadership campaign.

Ms. Wynne, a cycling enthusiast from her days living in the Netherlands, would also promote healthier lifestyles by having more bike lanes and pedestrian walkways built in rural Ontario.

HARINDER TAKHAR, 61

Harinder Takhar outlined plans on Monday to crack down on temporary help agencies that exploit employees. He would introduce legislation that would ensure these agencies are used solely for the purpose of providing temporary labour relief. He would also establish a licensing system for agencies to ensure that they protect the rights of temporary employees.

“Unfortunately, there are agencies that do not provide temporary workers with access to the benefits and protections offered to standard full-time workers, a practice that I intend to stop,” Mr. Takhar said.

SANDRA PUPATELLO, 50

Sandra Pupatello, also a front-runner in the campaign, released her plan for rural Ontario on Monday, including providing a single access window into government for rural municipalities, businesses and farmers.

“The priorities of rural Ontario must be front and centre in the decisions of government,” Ms. Pupatello said. “This new single access window will encourage investment and make sure that programs are developed and funded in a timely manner.”

GLEN MURRAY, 55

Many of the leadership rivals have embraced the idea of giving northern Ontarians a louder voice in decisions that directly affect them. But no one has gone as far as Glen Murray. At an all-candidates debate in Thunder Bay last week, Mr. Murray called for the creation of a regional government for the north, one that would make decisions on a range of policies that directly affect the area, including job-training programs, transportation and electricity prices. The booming mining industry – centred on an exploration area in the James Bay Lowlands known as the Ring of Fire – needs “made in the north” decisions, he said.

CHARLES SOUSA, 54

Charles Sousa unveiled his plan earlier this month for small-town and rural Ontario, one that he said makes job creation the main focus. He would support small businesses in these regions by giving them better access to the Southwestern and Eastern Ontario Development Funds. To date, he said, the Eastern Ontario fund has helped to attract $595-million in investment from the private sector. Mr. Sousa would also ensure that there is local input into decisions because, as he is fond of saying, “not all good ideas come from the Premier’s Office.”

GERARD KENNEDY, 52

Gerard Kennedy has yet to unveil his policies. But in a statement to The Globe and Mail on Monday, he said he plans to release “more fully developed” policies, beginning this week, on restoring peace in the province’s schools without resorting to the use of the government’s controversial Bill 115, on jobs for young graduates in their fields and on a new deal for the north.

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