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The Globe and Mail

Ontario’s Wynne raises spectre of Walkerton to warn against cuts

Ontario Premier and Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne is pictured as she meets Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion in Mississauga on Wednesday May 14 , 2014.


Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne used the anniversary of the Walkerton tainted water tragedy to warn that Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak's plan to slash 100,000 public-sector jobs would have a dire effect on the province.

"Decisions have consequences – sometimes more than we could know, sometimes worse than we could fear," she said on Thursday at the Clean Water Centre in the town of 5,000. "You cannot fire teachers without affecting the quality of the education that our children receive. You cannot fire hospital support workers without affecting the quality of care that our families receive. And you cannot fire water or food inspectors without affecting the monitoring of the water we drink and the food we eat."

Seven people died and 2,500 more fell ill in Walkerton from drinking water contaminated with E. coli in May, 2000. A public inquiry later found the province's water testing system, which PC premier Mike Harris's government had privatized, failed to oversee water quality properly. Two managers at the local utility were convicted criminally in the case.

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Mr. Hudak accused Ms. Wynne of exploiting the tragedy for electoral purposes.

"It's rather sad to see the Premier of Ontario trying to take advantage of that for political gain," he said during a campaign stop in London, where he was promoting a pledge to cut personal income taxes by 10 per cent. "I expected better from Kathleen Wynne. … All I've seen from her in these 10 days or so is pointing her finger at somebody else."

Asked whether his proposed 100,000 job cuts would include water inspectors, Mr. Hudak said: "I don't think anybody would even contemplate that."

Ms. Wynne promised $30-million over 10 years for the Clean Water Centre, which was built after the tragedy.

The Tories have previously accused the Liberals of invoking the crisis in Walkerton to justify excessive red tape.

"Sometimes in the House, when people are trying to justify regulations, they throw out the name of Walkerton as if it is a bad thing," Lisa Thompson, the MPP for the area, told reporters in March.

Also on Thursday, The Globe and Mail learned that negotiations on the timing and format of the leaders' debate are still under way, but that the televised bout will likely happen on Tuesday, June 3 – nine days before election day. The timing appears to be a function of broadcasters' attempts to schedule around the Stanley Cup playoffs.

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And Ms. Horwath spent the morning in Toronto, where she re-announced a promise to cut small business taxes from 4.5 to 3 per cent and bump the minimum wage to $12 an hour.

With reports from Adam Radwanski and Kaleigh Rogers

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