TORONTO – The Opposition accused Ontario’s Liberal government of trying to buy votes Wednesday after Premier Kathleen Wynne called two provincial byelections in Niagara Falls and the Toronto riding of Thornhill.
In the past month, the Liberals announced a $75-million package for the Niagara-based wine industry and $26 million for a new hospital in Niagara Falls, both in an effort to hang onto the riding, said Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak.
“All these promises and new money for things that weren’t even on the Liberal’s radar screen for some time,” complained Hudak.
Wynne announced the byelections will be held Feb. 13, less than a week before the legislature resumes sitting, to fill seats vacated by the retirements of Liberal Kim Craitor and Progressive Conservative Peter Shurman.
The New Democrats said they weren’t surprised to see the Liberals spending government money in advance of the byelection call.
“Whether it’s health care, whether it’s jobs, whether it’s making ends meet, I think the people of Niagara Falls know that this bylection is going to be about a number of different issues,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. The throwing around of a little bit of money is not unexpected. It’s the way Liberals do things.”
Wynne said the new hospital, which was announced Monday, and the assistance for the wine and grape industry were “in the works for a long time” and had nothing to do with the byelections. The wine sector has huge potential for growth, and providing government money is part of the Liberal’s economic strategy, she added.
“It’s an example of how we are investing in a business climate, and investing in people, so that we can see the economy grow,” said Wynne. “I will just go political for a moment, that is in stark contrast to what you see coming from the other leaders.”
The Conservatives oppose handouts to private business as corporate welfare, while the NDP say any government money for companies should come with “iron-clad” job guarantees.
Wynne said the Liberals were the only party that had been consistently behind construction of the new hospital in Niagara Falls, which will mean the closing of several other smaller hospitals in the region.
“The Conservatives were not supportive and now they are,” she said. “The NDP have said they’ll build a hospital and keep all the others open, so that’s not really a plan when you just keep adding.”
Horwath said it was “pretty funny” for Wynne to suggest other parties couldn’t be trusted to spend taxpayers’ money wisely.
“Both Liberals and Conservatives continue to cut back on health-care spending and reduce services, claiming that this is somehow going to save money,” said Horwath. “And yet the savings never come, and the expenditures keep going up, but one of the things that does keep going down is access to service.”
The outcomes of the byelections will not affect the minority status of the Liberal government, no matter which party wins, but they will help determine who has momentum as the province gears up for a widely-expected spring election.
City councillor Joyce Morocco will carry the Liberal banner in Niagara Falls, while the governing party has nominated councillor Sandra Yeung Racco as their candidate in Thornhill.
The Tories have nominated regional councillor and former Niagara Falls MPP Bart Maves as their candidate in the border city and will pick their candidate for Thornhill Thursday night.
The NDP will nominate their candidates in both ridings this weekend.