Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak is making $3.5-billion in tax relief measures the centrepiece of a campaign platform that borrows heavily from the governing Liberals and the federal Tories.
The platform is aimed at wooing middle-class voters in the 905 suburbs, where Mr. Hudak hopes to emulate Prime Minister Stephen Harper's recent success in the federal election. A similar strategy helped Mr. Harper's Conservatives sweep aside the Liberals in the suburban ridings dominated by young families, reducing the once-mighty Big Red Machine to a single seat in the 905 area code.
In essence, the Tories unveiled what is essentially a Liberal platform on Sunday, but with tax relief thrown in. The Tory platform adopts Premier Dalton McGuinty's flagship policies, including the harmonized sales tax, full-day kindergarten and the controversial health-care premium, even though Mr. Hudak has said repeatedly that the Liberals are "tired and out of gas." It also pledges to boost spending in health care and education, key program areas of the McGuinty government.
Mr. Hudak, who is leading in the polls, plans to follow in the footsteps of Mr. Harper and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, both of whom won majorities by appealing directly to suburban, middle-class voters. This is also the path to victory for Mr. Hudak, said Jason Kenney, the federal Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister who waged a successful campaign to persuade immigrant voters to support the Conservatives.
"Ours is the party that reflects the mainstream values of Canadians," Mr. Kenney told 1,700 Tory delegates at the party's weekend convention. "Do not allow yourself to be distracted by the voices of the elites."
Mr. Hudak would phase in the tax relief during his first term in office, beginning with removing the provincial portion of the harmonized sales tax from home heating bills next year. By the fiscal year ending March 31, 2016, all of the measures would be in place.
The main tax-relief measure - borrowed from the federal Conservatives' playbook - would allow families to split, or share, up to $50,000 of their household income for tax purposes. This promise would provide over $400 in annual tax relief to a typical family and as much as $1,400 for one-income families.
He is also promising to lower income taxes by 5 per cent a year on the first $75,000, putting $258 back in the pockets of taxpayers.
Removing the provincial portion of the HST from hydro bills would provide further relief of up to $275 a year.
The Liberals coined Mr. Hudak the "reckless rookie" on the weekend and say he has a secret agenda to slash spending on health care and education even though the Tories are pledging to boost spending in those areas.
The platform document says the Tories will spend another $8.6-billion on health care and education and erase the province's deficit - forecast to hit $16.3-billion this fiscal year - by March 31, 2018.
Liberal MPP Bob Chiarelli said on Sunday the numbers do not add up because the Tories' spending and tax relief measures would create a $10-to-$12-billion hole in the budget.
For Mr. Hudak, the platform document is his opportunity to put his own stamp on the party and deflect Liberal criticism that he is just a clone of his mentor, former premier Mike Harris.
He acknowledged on Sunday that it's going to be a "hard fought" race.
"The Ontario Liberals will fight dirty because the stakes are high," he told delegates. "It's their last shot."