Ontario's Progressive Conservatives would reduce income taxes, send the province back into deficit and take over Toronto's subway system if they are elected next June, Leader Patrick Brown promised as he unveiled his electoral blueprint.
Looking to remake his party's image, Mr. Brown has focused his Progressive Conservative platform on the province's middle class, with plans to invest more in child care and mental-health services. The 78-page program, dubbed the People's Guarantee, contains 147 promises and is Mr. Brown's plan to defeat Premier Kathleen Wynne and end 14 years of Liberal government in Ontario.
If the PCs win, the party would keep most of Ms. Wynne's marquee initiatives intact, including tuition rebates and expanded drug coverage, but would slow the final push to a $15 minimum wage and replace the province's cap-and-trade system with a carbon tax that would eventually raise more revenues.
"Under Kathleen Wynne, you work hard, you pay more and you get less. Under our platform, you will pay less and get more," Mr. Brown said in a half-hour speech on Saturday. In a statement released with his speech, the party leader said there is "nothing wrong with Ontario that can't be fixed by a change in government."
Unveiled to 1,500 delegates at a party convention near Toronto's main airport, the election plan contains five proposals that Mr. Brown said were guarantees – his government would deliver them by 2022 or he would not seek a second term. Those promises: a tax cut for Ontarians making less than $86,000; an expanded refund for child-care expenses; a 12-per-cent reduction in residential hydro bills; more money for mental health; and a stronger Accountability Act.
Mr. Brown's platform took a page from Justin Trudeau's federal Liberals and forecast that Ontario would return to a deficit in 2018 with a $2.8-billion shortfall, before posting surpluses in future years. A day after releasing the plan, Mr. Brown defended the expected deficit and denied that his party would post shortfalls throughout its first term if it formed government.
The document contains no mention of uncertainty over the future of the North American free-trade agreement and concerns of economic disruption if talks to renegotiate the trade deal were to collapse. The latest financial projections from Liberal Finance Minister Charles Sousa promised balanced budgets through to 2020.
Part of the deficit during their first year in government would come from an expensive transition from the province's existing cap-and-trade program to a new carbon tax that Mr. Brown would introduce.
According to pollster Greg Lyle with the Innovative Research Group, the PC platform looks designed to help the party reach beyond its core base of support. Compared to PC plans over the past decade, "this is far more activist … and an explicitly middle-class platform," he said.
The party's platform would offer some tax relief for Ontarians. A cut to the lowest income-tax bracket, representing an income of up to $42,960, would see the current tax rate of 5.05 per cent fall to about 4.5 per cent. The next tax bracket, which the party says represents the "middle class" earning from $42,960 to $85,923, would see a cut from the current rate of 9.15 per cent to 7.1 per cent. Once phased in by 2022, the tax cuts would cost the provincial treasury about $3.2-billion annually. The party would also cut the small-business tax rate.
Mr. Brown promised no substantial spending cuts over his party's first four years in power, but said that it would find $2.8-billion in annual savings by 2022.
A proposal to take over Toronto's subway system was one of the most notable promises in the document. While Toronto's transit service would be left with buses and streetcar routes, the provincial government would take over the city's subway infrastructure and spend $5-billion expanding subway lines into Toronto's vote-rich suburbs. Toronto would continue to operate the system in conjunction with the province and would collect subway fares, according to the party.
Pointing to stagnating incomes and the increased cost of living in Ontario over the past decade, Mr. Brown promised he would leave Ontarians with more money in their pockets if his party wins. "Job No. 1 for a PC government is to make life more affordable for you," he told the crowd at the campaign-style event. The weekend convention was Mr. Brown's last major party gathering before the next election.
The Tory plan would also see a new tax credit for child care, providing a family with a child under the age of 6 making less than $35,000 annually a refund of up to $6,750. The size of the credit would decrease as incomes rise above that level. The party also promised to spend $1.9-billion over the next decade for improved mental health.
Mr. Brown, 39, is a lawyer by training and had served in the federal parliament as an MP from Barrie for nearly a decade. He has been the provincial party's leader since September, 2015, and has yet to lead the Tories into a general election.
Steven Del Duca, the province's Transportation Minister, was at the Conservative convention on Saturday as a Liberal representative and dismissed Mr. Brown's plan as a "say anything" platform. "We know that if it sounds too good to be true, then it's not true," he said in a statement. "Any time a Conservative says they can lower taxes without making cuts, they end up cutting services."