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The Globe and Mail

Duncan, Horwath say platforms won't change with negative economic outlook

Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan

Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Neither the Ontario Liberals nor the NDP plan to recalibrate the finances behind their platforms in light of a worsening global economic outlook.

"Even with the changes, our numbers are very conservative and cautious," said Liberal candidate Dwight Duncan, who was the last Legislature's finance minister. "We've laid out a plan with a lot of prudence, a lot of reserve and modest growth assumptions that will serve us well in the coming years."

(The Liberals' platform plans for 2.4 per cent annual growth in the province; RBC capital had originally forecast 3.1 per cent growth in 2012, but its September forecast revised that to 2.4 per cent.)

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Mr. Duncan refused to even consider the possibility of Ontario's economy being dragged into another recession.

"That's a hypothetical I wouldn't project. No economist I've spoken to is predicting that at this point in time," he said. "We've laid out a plan for jobs and growth, a balanced budget plan that's been signed off by the auditor. And we've built in enough prudence and reserve that we can withstand the choppy seas we find ourselves in right now."

He did, however, use the financial uneasiness to make a pitch for Ontarians to keep the same government they've had in place.

"People are looking for leadership and a strong hand at the till. And by to-ing and fro-ing all over the place, Ms. Horwath and the NDP are demonstrating they simply are not ready to govern this province."

He also took a shot at Ms. Horwath's pledge to maintain existing restrictions on the expenses for which big businesses can get HST rebates (the Liberals promise to phase some of them out). "At the very time when you need steady leadership and certainty, she's creating uncertainty" by "tinkering" with the province's tax plans, he said. "I think she's pandering and playing politics."

Not so, Ms. Horwath argues: The hundreds of millions the province would save by preventing those tax rebates is "a heck of a lot of money," that could be better spent elsewhere.

"Why give $1-billion, potentially, in tax dollars to freebies for the bigwigs? I don't think people see that as a priority. Ontarians tell me the priority is jobs."

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And, Ms. Horwath added, she wouldn't change anything to guard against the province slipping into another downturn.

"Our big focus is going to remain everyday people. It's going to be making sure everyday people have hope for the future. … I don't want to suppose there is going to be another big dip, although it may happen. And I think if there is, I think we have to make sure we're still focusing on putting people back to work and focusing on making their lives more affordable."

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