Ontario's minority Liberal government is ready to campaign on new tolls or fees to fund public transit, even though the opposition parties will accuse them of raising taxes, Premier Kathleen Wynne said Saturday.
New revenue tools to pay for upgrades to public transit in the Toronto-Hamilton corridor are just one of the policy ideas being debated by about 500 Liberals at a provincial council meeting this weekend, the first get-together since Wynne took over as premier last January.
Wynne said Liberals know it will be a tough sell but that money must be found for transit and other infrastructure projects.
"I believe that the people in this party understand, and I have talked to many of them, that if we don't take this responsibility, if we don't find a way to do this in the fairest way possible, then we're abdicating our responsibility to the next generation and the generation after that," she said.
The public is ahead of politicians on the need to ease gridlock and boost transit and don't want the Liberals to back down on raising new revenues, added Wynne.
"We're at the point right now where people's quality of life is so affected that they can see what the negative impact will be if we don't do something about this right now," she said.
"What I hear from people is fear, that because successive governments have not made the investments necessary that we won't be able to hold onto that resolve to build what's necessary going forward."
The New Democrats said they don't want to see any tolls or higher taxes for transit until the government makes big businesses pay more in taxes, and warned the issue could trigger an election.
"We're not going to support new taxes and tolls that hit households while the Liberal government is opening new loopholes with billions to Ontario's biggest corporations," said Hamilton New Democrat MPP Paul Miller.
In her first address to a Liberal convention as premier, Wynne said she does not want the party to get dragged into being mean or engaging in personal attacks like she has been subjected to.
"Even when it gets hard, even when the real campaign battle begins – when it can be hard to resist old-style politics – we are going to show people that there is another way to do politics," said Wynne.
"The people of Ontario don't want that negativity, and I hear that over and over again."
The Liberals are meeting to begin their process to develop policies for the next election, which will include asking the public for ideas.
Wynne defended the Liberals' 10-year record in government and said they had turned Ontario around.
"I'm not going to let anyone diminish these accomplishments or rewrite the history of our contributions," she said in a speech to the party faithful.
The Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats say the Liberals are reaching out to the public because they're out of new ideas, especially on ways to turn the economy around and create jobs.
But Wynne said the Liberals intend to set targets for each sector of the economy to make sure there are proper supports to help businesses grow and expand their workforce.
"We cannot slash our way to success," she said in a shot at the Conservatives.
"We are investing in people. We are investing in infrastructure and we are supporting businesses by creating an innovative and dynamic environment where everyone can succeed."