In this online leaders’ debate, we have asked the three major candidates for Ontario premier in the June 12 election to answer a fundamental question: “What is needed to get Ontario’s economy back on track?” They each were given up to 800 words to do so, and they were told they could not criticize the platforms of other parties and candidates - they had to make the best case for their own. This election is very much rooted in the urgent need for economic recovery, so the responses to this question have real consequence. Take the time to read all three proposals, and vote on the one you find most persuasive.
Kathleen Wynne : The last few years have been tough. The global recession hit Ontario hard, but we’re seeing signs of recovery in our manufacturing sector.
Now is the time to build Ontario up. The fact is, we all need to take action on a number of fronts to get Ontario’s economy growing at its full potential, and to support the excellent schools, hospitals and public services that people expect of their government. The private sector needs to invest more in training, research and innovation. Educators need to prepare the next generation of skilled workers and entrepreneurs. And we all need to work together to create more opportunity for the most disadvantaged among us.
Some would say the government’s role is to withdraw. But our recovery is still fragile. The effects of the global recession continue to cause challenges, particularly in manufacturing. There are positive signs: In 2013, Ontario attracted more foreign direct investment than any other province or state in North America. In the past year, Ontario has created nearly 100,000 new jobs.
Our job today is to make strategic investments and partnerships so that we can transition to a high-wage, high-value-added economy – and to do this while keeping our tax rates competitive and managing our finances prudently. It requires a serious approach that rises above slogans.
Our first step is to develop our best resource – our people. We need to invest in their talent and skills so they can fill – and create – the jobs of the future. That means giving our youngest learners the best possible start through full-day kindergarten. It means making post-secondary education more accessible and affordable through the 30 per cent Off Tuition Grant. And it means expanding the largest apprenticeship program in the history of our province, with nearly 120,000 apprentices learning a trade in Ontario this year alone. It does not mean sacrificing 100,000 high-value workers who provide essential public services.
Companies will invest in Ontario because of our people, but their long-term growth can often depend on access to safe, efficient transit and infrastructure. That is why we need to invest in our roads, bridges, highways and transit, as well as our schools and hospitals. The impact of such investments is substantial. These projects create jobs, reduce congestion, improve the quality of life and attract investment from outside Ontario. Any plan to support our economy must include investments in infrastructure.
Ontario has one of the North America’s most diversified economies, with strengths in the auto sector, aerospace, agri-food, financial services, health care and so many other areas. It is one of our great strengths.
But we cannot take that for granted. That is why we must support a dynamic business climate by maintaining competitive tax rates and helping businesses with their energy costs. And it is why we need to balance the budget by 2017-18 in a realistic way. Our plan builds on our record of keeping health-care spending growth at below 3 per cent annually while investing more in front-line health care. It maintains our position as the leanest provincial government in Canada.
It also means partnering with businesses like Cisco, Ford and Dr. Oetker. These are companies that could have chosen anywhere to invest, but they chose Ontario. In today’s global economy we have an obligation to forge such partnerships and seize such opportunities. As Premier, I will enter into partnerships like these ten times out of ten.
When we think about creating the conditions for good jobs in Ontario, it’s important that we don’t forget what happens when people retire. We already know that too many people in Ontario are struggling to save enough for retirement. If we simply stand back and do nothing, many more will need to rely on government support just to make ends meet.
That is why we are proposing an Ontario Retirement Pension Plan. This would provide the secure retirement that people deserve while giving them the opportunity to invest back into Ontario’s economy in their golden years. This is not only the right thing to do. It is the smart thing to do.
What is needed to get Ontario’s economy back on the rails? There are clearly a number of answers. As Premier, I can assure you that I will pursue each and every one so that we can provide opportunity for today and security for tomorrow.
Andrea Horwath : Over the last decade, billions of Ontarians’ tax dollars have been wasted while our economic recovery has stalled. Jobs are being shipped away, businesses are closing, and the middle class is shrinking.
Ontarians are sitting at their kitchen tables and wondering why their bills keep going up while their take-home pay is stuck in neutral. Middle-class families are finding it harder to make ends meet and are increasingly being forced to dip into their savings just to get by.
And this isn’t just a recent phenomenon. Over the last decade, 300,000 good manufacturing jobs have disappeared while the median market income of Ontarians has fallen by 4 per cent. We now have a generation of young people who fear they cannot count on a better quality of life than the generation before them. And we have been left with a province that is in a much weaker economic position than it was a decade ago.
We can do better. New Democrats have an achievable, responsible plan that will grow our economy and make life better for Ontarians. With a balance of short-term measures to kick-start job creation and get our economy moving again, and longer-term actions to boost our economic growth into the future, we can put the province back on the path to fiscal sustainability.
It starts with job creation. Good middle-class jobs are key to Ontario’s success. Over the last decade, we’ve seen both provincial and federal governments invest heavily in corporate tax reduction. Competitive corporate tax levels are important, but they have not delivered the thousands of jobs promised by their proponents. An NDP government will maintain a competitive corporate tax rate, but as Premier, I will encourage investment and reward job creators by providing tax credits to companies that create real jobs and choose to invest here in Ontario. Job creation and investment tax credits have been used successfully in other jurisdictions to encourage the businesses that are ready to invest and hire.
We’ll also invest in our small businesses. Across the province, many small-business owners have told me that the weakened economy has forced them to lay off workers or even to shut their doors. And the data bears this out: between 2010 and 2012, the number of small business in Ontario declined by nearly 7,000. We’ll cut the small-business tax rate to 3 per cent, and ensure that the benefits are shared by raising the minimum wage for the over half million people relying on minimum wage jobs to pay the bills.
We will also invest in the infrastructure businesses need to thrive. New Democrats understand that to get our economy moving, we have to get Ontario moving again by making it easier for people to commute, and for companies to ship and deliver their products. We will invest in transit and transportation infrastructure across Ontario, whether it’s moving ahead with the infrastructure required to develop the Ring of Fire deposit and create value-added mining and processing jobs, or investments in Toronto’s Downtown Relief Line to ensure people can get to work and start alleviating Toronto’s traffic gridlock.
While we work to create good middle-class jobs, there are steps that can be taken right now to make life more affordable and ease the financial pressure felt by so many Ontario families. Ontarians are paying some of the highest hydro bills in the country and they are projected to go up by a staggering 42 per cent over the next five years.
Our plan will make life more affordable by taking the HST off home hydro bills and reducing auto insurance rates by 15 per cent. We will clean up the mess in Ontario’s energy system to help bring down prices. And, recalling how many thousands of Ontarians are the primary caregivers for ill or aging loved ones, we’ll ensure that these families get some assistance with a refundable $1,275 caregiver tax credit.
In the wake of the gas-plant scandal, many Ontarians have lost faith that the government is respecting their tax dollars and spending wisely on the fundamentals. New Democrats are firmly committed to making sure that government is accountable for how tax dollars are spent, and we’ll take immediate action by appointing a Financial Accountability Officer and placing a cap on out-of-control public-sector CEO salaries.
On June 12, New Democrats are offering a positive choice: a plan that respects the tax dollars that you send to Queen’s Park, and invests them in the fundamentals--creating jobs, improving health care, and make life more affordable. We’ll get the economy back on track and make sure government is working for the people of Ontario. It’s a plan that makes sense.
Tim Hudak : Since we launched our Million Jobs Plan, we have been clear that our sole priority is job creation.
Everything flows from jobs. The family that can afford to pay the mortgage, and maybe build a new deck. The laid off worker who gets back not only a paycheque, but the dignity that comes from a good job. The young electrician who hears for the first time the magic words “you’re hired.” And the revenue that pays for the vital services we depend on from government, like hospitals and classrooms – because people with steady jobs pay steady taxes.
Ontario’s economy has suffered in the last eleven years. We have lost 300,000 manufacturing jobs, and our unemployment rate was above the national average even before the recession began.
And despite this, we believe that with determined, decisive action, we can unleash Ontario’s enormous potential, and re-ignite private-sector job creation.
The foundation is a balanced budget. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s number one priority for the government is to balance the books – because well-run companies want to create jobs in well-run provinces.
We will tackle soaring energy prices. Ontario has gone from some of the most competitive industrial energy prices on the continent to the highest. And company after company has identified energy cost as its reason for leaving Ontario. So we will end the unaffordable wind and solar subsidies, shut down energy bureaucracies like the Ontario Power Authority, and treat energy policy as economic policy.
We will end corporate welfare handouts, and replace them with lower taxes for all employers. That means reducing Ontario’s taxes on employers by 30 per cent, making them the lowest in North America. Why the lowest? Because we want the most jobs, at the best pay.
We will support free trade with markets such as Europe, and even more urgently, will work for free trade within Canada. It is unconscionable that internal trade barriers cost the Canadian economy $50-billion a year. British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan have gone so far as to sign a free-trade agreement within Canada. We would sign it right away.
Skilled trades offer an enormous opportunity for rapid job creation. At the same time as we have widespread unemployment, Ontario has an acute shortage of skilled trades, with 46 per cent fewer tradespeople per capita than the other provinces. That isn’t a coincidence; it’s a deliberate decision, made by a new bureaucracy called the College of Trades that restricts access to apprenticeships, to exacerbate the skilled trades shortage in the hopes of giving big unions more bargaining power. We will eliminate the College of Trades, and allow bright young Ontario workers to pursue good, well-paid trades like metalworking and welding right here at home, rather than having to move to Alberta or Saskatchewan to find work.
Not every student will go into skilled trades, but every one needs math. So we will end the failed “discovery math” curriculum fad that has driven down our students’ math achievement, and re-introduce proven methods, like memorizing multiplication tables.
There are many more actions in our job creation plan, and we invite you to read them all at millionjobsplan.com.
We know that change will not always be easy, but the rewards are enormous. Ontario can be – will be – a province with thriving private-sector job creation… with a secure, well-paid job for everyone who wants to work. And when our people are working, we can sustain the vital services we all depend on. We invite you to join with us to make it happen, by supporting our Million Jobs Plan.