Tory’s platform hinges on cutting Ontario health tax
Conservative leader pledges to spend billions more on education if elected
If the Conservatives form TORONTO • Ontario’s next government, they will spend billions more on education and health care even as they collect less revenues, party leader John Tory said yesterday, as he unveiled a promiseheavy platform for this fall’s election.
The document revolves around Mr. Tory’s central pledge to eliminate the Liberal’s $2.6-billion health tax, introduced despite an oft-repeated “no new taxes” promise by Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty.
“(It is) the largest single tax increase in Ontario’s history,” he said. “This tax hurts poor and middle-income Ontarians the most and we will, gradually and responsibly, eliminate this unfair, regressive tax in our first term.”
The platform also lays out pledges to cap property-tax increases at five per cent, boost agricultural subsidies by $300 million, and to build new nuclear plants. A Tory-led government would also fund faith-based schools at an estimated cost of more than $400 million annually and would move 10 per cent of government jobs, or about 6,600, out of Toronto and into towns hardest hit by job losses in the manufacturing sector.
In total, there are more than 100 promises in the 52-page document.
They include a pledge to build “spectacular architecture and new landmarks that reflect local character” through seed funding for international architectural competitions.
Mr. Tory, who has criticized Mr. McGuinty’s laundry list of pledges in 2003, said he “didn’t count” the number of promises he’s made.
“I think it’s important that people have a sense of where we’re going to go in government,” he told reporters at a Toronto hotel where Conservatives are holding their annual convention.
He pledged to save $1.5 billion in government program spending over two years, while increasing education spending by $2.4 billion and health by $8.5 billion over the same period.
Liberal Health Minister George Smitherman, one of a large contingent of Liberal spin doctors on hand yesterday, doubted Mr. Tory’s ability to fulfil all the promises contained in the platform.
“He’s got a multibillion-dollar hole here,” he said, referring to the elimination of the health tax. “It’s like a trial balloon document that will have to be severely edited because, right now, Mr. Tory cannot get all of those promises into that document because of the fiscal circumstances he’s created for himself.”
Mr. Smitherman said the end effect would be cuts to services.
“We know that when Conservatives talk about doing better with less, the end effect is that they cut services to deliver tax cuts. This is the very same foundation that Mike Harris promised Ontarians in 1995.”
Mr. Tory touted his private-sector achievements in response. The former corporate lawyer and cable executive, who also served as volunteer commissioner of the Canadian Football League, called his plan “realistic, affordable and achievable.”
“My track record is one of achieving the plans I put forward,” he said. “I’m not going to put forward a plan that I can’t achieve. I’m determined to achieve it, it’s achievable and it will be done.”
The 53-year-old Mr. Tory said a full costing of his plan would only come later this summer, however, after the auditor general has reviewed and reported on the government’s finances heading into the election.
He said, given the choice of relying on Mr. McGuinty’s numbers and those of the auditor general, he would pick the latter “10 times out of 10.”
Conservative insiders say yesterday’s document fulfils Mr. Tory’s commitment to move the party back to its centrist roots, setting up a battle with Mr. McGuinty over Ontario’s sizeable political middle ground.
The Tory platform includes a section on arts and culture, for example, that lays out millions in increased funding for the Ontario Arts Council, a pledge to work with the federal government to allow artists to average income over a multi-year period and a promise to add an option to donate to the arts directly on income-tax forms.
Mr. Tory said he views support for the arts as an “important part of building a strong social and cultural fabric in Ontario.”
“The Progressive Conservative party that I lead is committed to helping disadvantaged people, to doing as much as we can to offer people a hand up.”
But NDP critic Paul Ferreira said the Conservative policies will make it difficult for Ontarians to contrast the two parties.
“Dalton McGuinty and John Tory are one in the same — they’re indistinguishable,” he said.
“They both deliver hundreds of promises, they both are addicted to nuclear power, they both support the increased privatization of health care and education, they both vote to give themselves huge pay raises, while ignoring the needs of the lowest-earning Ontarians.
“As far as I’m concerned, there is no difference between this plan and the plan we’ve seen over the past four years.”