The Ontario Liberals’ pledge to provide tax credits for businesses that hire skilled immigrants is becoming a flashpoint in the provincial election campaign, with a senior party official accusing Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak of opposing anything that has a foreign flavour to it.
Mr. Hudak took aim at the initiative on Tuesday morning, saying immigrants should be offended by a plan to provide tax credits to companies that hire them, because he says it suggests they can’t compete fairly with other Canadians.
“Tim’s Hudak’s comments are an affront to all Ontarians,” Liberal campaign co-chairman Greg Sorbara said in an interview. “This is a simple and specific program to assist Ontarians – citizens, landed immigrants, whatever – to get the training that they need with a tax credit so that they can actually practice the profession that they trained for.”
Mr. Sorbara accused the Tory leader of trying to appeal to the hard right fringe of his party by opposing not only tax credits to help highly skilled newcomers land jobs but also scholarships for foreign students and investments by anything other than North American-based companies.
He is referring to Mr. Hudak’s own campaign pledges to cancel the Liberals’ $30-million scholarship program for foreign students as well as rip up a $7-billion green-energy deal with South Korean multinational Samsung.
“If Samsung were IBM or Kodak or any number of North American-based firms,” Mr. Sorbara said, “I don’t think Tim Hudak would be making the same kind of noise.”
What he is doing, Mr. Sorbara said, is engaging in the “politics of division” and playing to an audience nostalgic for an Ontario of the 1950s. His marching orders are coming from “somewhere in Eastern Ontario,” Mr. Sorbara added, referring to Randy Hillier, the controversial former head of the Ontario Landowners Association who is the MPP for Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox and Addington.
“My fear is that Randy Hillier has taken over the party,” Mr. Sorbara said.
For his part, Mr. Hudak made his first campaign appearance by venturing into Scarborough on Tuesday to talk about education with the seven-member Vohra family, who belong to the Progressive Conservative Party. But it was his response to the Liberal policy that yielded the most questions. Wearing a blue suit and a blue shirt unbuttoned at the collar, Mr. Hudak took questions in the backyard and explained why his party would oppose the Liberal plan that would see employers receive a $10,000 credit for hiring immigrants.
“This program offends new Canadians the most,” he said. “They are working hard and trying to climb the ladder.”
The party was quick to call the program “affirmative action” when it was announced Monday, and Mr. Hudak continued to make the point from the backyard podium. He said his grandparents were also immigrants, and would not have wanted an advantage over other Canadians.
The campaign distributed flyers to journalists on the media bus with the heading “Inside Ontario, you’re left out. Outside Ontario? You’re in Luck.”
Echoing comments made by candidates on Twitter when the Liberals launched their platform Monday, the Conservatives are looking to appeal to Ontario residents who feel they are being overlooked in favour of immigrants.
“Dalton McGuinty will pay companies $10,000 to hire anybody but you,” Mr. Hudak said of his Liberal rival.
The pamphlet lists three concerns: the $30-million program for foreign students, tax money going to help entice Samsung to set up plants in the province and the $10,000 tax credit promised Monday for employers who hire “skilled immigrants.”
The Liberal Party – who barred a Conservative candidate from their campaign launch Monday, saying it was by invitation only – sent two representatives to the news conference.
They were allowed to stay, and filmed Mr. Hudak while he spoke. Afterward, they distributed their own news releases calling Mr. Hudak “Tea Party Tim.”
The release called him a hypocrite because he has promised to provide a tax credit for immigrants so employers can help them receive language training.
The program – which the Conservatives introduced as a private-member’s bill in 2010 – would apply to any employee who has been in the country fewer than two years.
Mr. Hudak dismissed the comparison, saying his program would only amount to about $400 a worker and apply only to immigrants who have already found work.