Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne is promising to reintroduce her budget within 20 days if she wins the June 12 election.
Trying to put a lacklustre debate performance behind her, Ms. Wynne kicked off the final mad dash to the electoral finish line with a raucous early-morning rally in the Liberal heartland Wednesday – and that pledge to bring back the budget that triggered the campaign in the first place.
“If anyone thinks there is a rest coming after this – get over yourselves, it’s not happening. No holidays,” she told hundreds of cheering partisans at a banquet hall in the Toronto suburb of Vaughan. “Regardless of whether we get a majority or a minority, we will be ready to govern. We are the only ones who have a credible plan. We’ll implement it immediately.”
The Liberal budget – which contained a new provincial pension plan, $29-billion for transit and big spending on social programs – was rejected last month by the Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats, causing the election.
Ms. Wynne’s tactic of reintroducing it immediately is designed to lessen the chances of it getting defeated again in the event of a minority. She is likely counting on the other parties not forcing another election so quickly after the last one, and letting the budget pass instead.
Asked about Ms. Wynne’s promise, Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak said Wednesday that his party would also start “immediately” and would quickly craft a “mini budget” to get the ball rolling on his platform ideas, but would not put a specific number of days on the goal.
Ms. Wynne also said she would not try to govern if she does not win the most seats after June 12.
She spent most of the rally exhorting centre-left voters to rally behind her to stop Tim Hudak’s Tories, who are running on a small-government campaign of cutting public-sector jobs and implementing massive tax cuts.
“Tim Hudak would sacrifice the economy on the altar of extreme conservative ideology,” she said. “We have to say no to cuts, no to pink slips, no to bogus math.”
Ms. Wynne was on the defensive in the debate Tuesday, as Mr. Hudak and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath hammered her on the billion-dollar cancellation of two gas plants by her predecessor, Dalton McGuinty. Ms. Wynne spent most of the debate trying to ignore the barrage, speaking straight to the camera and barely acknowledging the other two.
On Wednesday, she appealed to Liberal sentimentality, telling volunteers their government must “operate out of a place of love and caring” as they battle for the final eight days of the campaign.
Ms. Wynne’s campaign says she will keep up a frenetic pace for the final push. On Wednesday, she was set to pull a 16-hour day, jetting to Ottawa for a rally with federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in the afternoon.
After an aggressive performance the night before, Mr. Hudak was still in debate mode as he came out swinging again Wednesday with more attacks on his opponents.
Mr. Hudak spent the morning playing host to a town hall with supporters in Ajax, where he cut up Ms. Wynne’s debate performance, saying she didn’t answer specific questions about how she’ll reduce spending to overcome the province’s deficit.
“If you can’t think of one single thing that you’re going to do, we’re never going to get out of this debt crisis. We’re never going to get back on our feet,” he told the crowd of about 100 supporters, echoing some of the language he’d used to scold the Liberal leader the night before.
“I was disappointed, but not surprised.”
Mr. Hudak listed off some specific agencies he has in mind to cut from the government if elected, including the Ontario Power Authority, the College of Trades and Local Health Integration Networks. He also reiterated his pledge from the debate to resign if he does not meet the promises laid out in his platform and was firm on his decision to enact an across-the-board wage freeze on all public workers, despite recent attack ads from the Ontario Provincial Police Association.
“We have to always think about those who are paying the taxes, not just those on the government payroll. I think it’s fair, it’s reasonable and it’s a very Canadian thing to do.”
At a breakfast rally in Toronto, Andrea Horwath didn’t address what she might do if Ms. Wynne reintroduces the same budget with a minority government.
“I think the only person in a corner today is Kathleen Wynne,” the NDP Leader told media after the event on Wednesday. “She has a record that she couldn’t even defend last night.”
In a speech to about 50 people gathered at the Gladstone Hotel, Ms. Horwath said PC Leader Hudak isn't the right choice for Ontario either because his plan makes no sense. “Everybody knows that Mr. Hudak’s not going to be able to create a million jobs but they also know he’s darned determined to cut 100,000 jobs,” she said.
At a quick stop outside the campaign office of Jermaine King, candidate for Ajax-Pickering, Ms. Horwath also said Ms. Wynne's plan to roll out the same budget after winning the election was premature.
"She’s presupposing an outcome that I don’t think we’re going to have," Ms. Horwath said. "I don’t believe that I've heard that people want to go back to that Liberal waste and corruption."
As she made her way across the GTA Wednesday morning, Ms. Horwath continued to avoid discussions about what her plan is if one of the other two parties wins a minority government. She also set a hard target of $600-million in annual savings by eliminating duplication in government, such as joining all the electricity authorities into one body.
"It's something I believe is absolutely achievable," she said, adding high hospital CEO salaries, for instance, could be targeted to save money and invest in front-line services.