TORONTO – Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is fending off attacks from the Harper government in the first day of campaigning in the provincial election. Prime Minister Stephen Harper waded into the campaign Friday, slamming Wynne’s proposed Ontario pension plan — a centrepiece of her re-election bid — as a tax that won’t fly with voters.
Wynne shot back Saturday, saying that if Harper isn’t willing to back the plan, he shouldn’t interfere. “The first choice would have been to have an improvement and enhancement to the Canada Pension Plan, but the federal government is not interested in doing that,” she said. “So quite frankly I think that if Prime Minister Harper isn’t interested in partnering with us then he should move out of the way.”
Finance Minister Joe Oliver also weighed in on the issue Saturday, telling CBC that Wynne’s budget proposals would put the province on a “route to economic decline.” Wynne’s response was to accuse the Harper government of balancing its books “on the backs of the people of Ontario” by cutting transfer payments for health and social spending — a long-standing point of contention between her minority Liberals and the federal government.
The province was plunged in a campaign for a June 12 election after the opposition parties said they had lost confidence in the minority Liberal government. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath started things rolling Friday by saying her party could no longer prop up a government plagued by scandal. Horwath then announced she would vote with the Progressive Conservatives to defeat the budget.
Wynne decided not to let her government face weeks of criticism before the confidence vote on the budget, so she went to Lt.-Gov. David Onley and asked him to dissolve the legislature. Wynne said Friday she wanted to see the budget passed in the legislature, but adds “it was Horwath and PC Leader Tim Hudak who decided it was time for an election.”
She said voters will have a choice between Liberal “safe hands and risky tactics” of the opposition parties. The Liberal budget would improve people’s lives with a made-in-Ontario pension plan, billions for transit and transportation infrastructure and grants for businesses to create jobs, Wynne said. “Quite frankly I thought there was a lot in the budget that would recommend itself to both the Tories and the NDP, but she made a different decision,” she said. “I think a lot is at risk.”
Horwath said she couldn’t trust the Liberals to keep all their budget promises. “I cannot in good conscience support a government that people don’t trust anymore,” said Horwath. “This budget is not a solid plan for the future. It’s a mad dash to escape the scandals by promising the moon and the stars.”
Hudak said he has no qualms about taking his ideas to voters, which include lower corporate taxes and an across-the-board public sector wage freeze. Horwath is hypocritical for taking so long to defeat the Liberals, which they should have done at least a year ago, he said in Ottawa. “If you’re looking for who’s going to be the best actor on the stage, if you’re looking for someone who’s running a popularity contest by promising funding on all kinds of projects but they don’t have the cheques to cash in, well then vote for the Liberal leader or the NDP leader,” he said.
Several large labour groups, including the Unifor and the Ontario Federation of Labour, had urged the NDP to pass the budget and avoid an election, but public sector unions complained the fiscal plan puts jobs at risk. The Ontario Public Service Employees Union — which has been in a tough labour fight with the Liberals — said they support Horwath’s call to go to the polls.