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Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak speaks at a party convention in Toronto May 27, 2011. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak speaks at a party convention in Toronto May 27, 2011. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

Ontario Conservatives pledge income-tax splitting for families Add to ...

Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak is wooing middle-class voters with a tax break pledge aimed at all families.

The measure - borrowed from the federal Conservatives' playbook - would allow families to split, or share, up to $50,000 of their household income for tax purposes. The Tories estimate this promise would provide over $400 in tax relief to a typical family.

Mr. Hudak unveiled the promise on Saturday at the Progressive Conservative Party's annual convention, where he gave a sneak peak of his election campaign platform.

"I ask the parents in this room: Do you have the time to enjoy your families?," Mr. Hudak asked 1,700 delegates gathered at the cavernous Toronto Congress Centre. "Or do you find you are working harder and harder - under more and more stress - with nothing to show for it after you have paid your taxes?"

Mr. Hudak is also pledging to provide relief for middle-class families with a 5-per-cent tax cut on the first $75,000 of income.

The promises show that the Tories are tailoring their platform to appeal specifically to suburban voters in the 905 region. A similar strategy helped Mr. Harper sweep aside the Liberal Party in the suburban ridings around Toronto dominated by young families, reducing the once-dominant Big Red Machine to a single seat in the 905 area code.

The tax breaks are among a series of measures aimed at providing relief to Ontarians. On their home heating bills, Mr. Hudak has pledged to remove the provincial portion of the harmonized sales tax as well as the debt retirement charge. At the same time, he says he will increase spending on health care and education - two priority areas of Premier Dalton McGuinty - while erasing the province's $16.3-billion deficit sooner than the governing Liberals' target of fiscal 2017-18.

The Liberals were quick to attack Mr. Hudak as a "reckless rookie" whose spending increases and tax relief measures leave him with a $10-to-$12-billion hole to fill. "The numbers just don't add up," Liberal MPP Bob Chiarelli told reporters Saturday evening. "We think that he's running a fictional campaign."

On income splitting, Mr. Hudak is vowing to go one better than his federal counterparts. Mr. Harper has said income-splitting will not take effect until the federal deficit is eliminated - a date that could be four years in the future. The federal Tories are also aiming their tax measure just at parents with children under 18.

Their provincial cousins, by contrast, would make income splitting available to all couples, regardless of whether they have children, a party official told The Globe and Mail. As well, the official said, the policy would take effect immediately if the Tories win the Oct. 6 provincial election.

Income splitting allows the spouse in higher tax brackets to shift income to their partner with a lower level of earnings so that the overall rate of taxation is reduced. Mr. Hudak will call upon his federal counterparts to introduce their tax measure before the deficit is eliminated, the official said.

Mr. Hudak will reveal how much this and other promises will cost on Sunday.

According to Jason Kenney, the federal Immigration Minister who waged a successful campaign to convince immigrant voters to support the Conservatives, copying Mr. Harper is precisely what Mr. Hudak should be doing.

Mr. Hudak can cruise to victory if he follows the same path as Mr. Harper and Toronto mayor Rob Ford - ignore the elites and the media, Mr. Kenney told delegates in a luncheon speech on Saturday.

"You are reflecting the mainstream values of Ontarians," Mr. Kenney said. "Do not allow yourself to be distracted by the voices of the elites."

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