Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has rolled out a Liberal-lite election platform, adopting most of Kathleen Wynne’s budget – but not her signature provincial pension plan – and adding a grab bag of populist promises. The party is appealing to Grits disaffected by recent spending scandals and attempting to shore up key groups of voters to become the province’s dominant centre-left force.
To that end, the platform offers pocketbook relief to virtually every demographic, from university students to small businesses to baby boomers caring for aging parents. It also promises to implement Ms. Wynne’s $29-billion fund for transportation and increased spending on social programs. These measures were contained in the Liberal budget, whose rejection by the NDP this month triggered the election.
The NDP is proposing to pay for its new spending primarily through a 1-per-cent tax hike on large corporations.
Ms. Horwath’s embrace of Ms. Wynne’s left-tilting policies also appears to be an attempt to heal a rift in the NDP. Many party stalwarts have become disenchanted by Ms. Horwath’s abandonment of ambitious policy in favour of centrist small-ball politics.
At a raucous platform launch at the University of Toronto on Thursday, Ms. Horwath made a direct appeal to Liberal voters.
“Are you ready for a government that respects you?” she told a cheering crowd at Hart House. “We have been experiencing exactly the opposite, a government that has disrespected your hard-earned tax dollars.”
Pacing the floor with a microphone in hand, she gave one of her strongest performances to date on the campaign trail – and one of the few without a Teleprompter – peppering her speech with folksy ad-libs that matched her platform’s bread-and-butter pledges.
Among other things, she is promising to freeze university tuition and take interest off student loans; offer $1,275 per year to people taking care of ill or aging relatives and speed up the current plan to cut auto insurance rates by 15 per cent. Ms. Horwath would also hire 250 more nurse practitioners to cut down on emergency room waiting times and spend $5-million a year on new bike lanes.
Ms. Horwath said she would not proceed with the Liberals’ Ontario Retirement Pension Plan, which would double Canada Pension Plan benefits. Instead, she said, she would wait to see whether the federal government is willing to expand CPP after the 2015 election. She did, however, express support for pension expansion in general.
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak, for his part, is against mandatory pension expansion, dubbing it a “payroll tax.”
Asked by reporters why she rejected the budget if she agrees with so much of it, Ms. Horwath said the Liberals could not be trusted to implement it.
Whether Ms. Horwath can implement her plan, meanwhile, is also an open question. Much of her plan to balance the books in three years hinges on a corporate tax hike, but Western University economist Mike Moffatt says the increase will likely take in only half the money the party is banking on.
“They basically assume that corporations are just going to suck it up and pay the tax. But to a certain extent [Canadian corporations] can book profits in one province or another,” he said. Mr. Moffatt said the platform doesn’t provide enough detail on some of the party’s pledges to evaluate how realistic they are. One part of her platform, for instance, assumes the government will find hundreds of millions of savings, but it is not clear from where.
At a rally in a west-end Toronto nightclub Thursday, Ms. Wynne drew laughs from a crowd of roughly 300 supporters when she mocked the NDP platform as unsubstantial.
“I had the opportunity to take at look at Andrea Horwath’s platform – it didn’t take long,” she said, flanked by federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. She described the NDP plan as “random, disparate, disconnected.”
“There are some good [ideas],” she said. “Those are the ones they took from us.”
With a report from Susan Krashinsky in Ottawa