Ontario's governing Liberals hope all-day commuter trains and a new tax credit to help immigrants will "stop the Tory hat-trick" Prime Minister Stephen Harper suggested was imminent in the Oct. 6 provincial election.
Details of the platform Premier Dalton McGuinty hopes will deliver a third majority Liberal government in Ontario were obtained Sunday by The Canadian Press, a day before the party was to make the platform public.
The embarrassing leak has exposed the fact that even top Liberal insiders are concerned about some of the policies outlined to party strategists during a conference call Sunday.
An audio recording of the Liberal conference call was heard by The Canadian Press, in a leak the Progressive Conservatives said was proof the Liberals have some serious internal problems.
The New Democrats, led by Andrea Horwath, said the leak shows Liberals are jumping ship.
"There are people close to the [Liberal] party, I think, that are jumping ship and they're bringing their numbers with them," said NDP critic France Gelinas. "None of this sounds like a well-prepared campaign ready to bring changes that people need."
The Liberals declined to comment on the leak and said all Ontario residents can hear the full platform when McGuinty releases it Monday.
Part of the Liberal plan is "a strong voice for a strong Ontario," which could be "subtitled stop the hat-trick," McGuinty's policy guru Jameson Steeve said during the briefing.
Harper made the hat-trick comment at a recent event hosted by Toronto's Mayor Rob Ford in an effort to bolster the chances for new Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak in the Ontario vote.
If Ontario's Tories form the government in the fall vote, Conservatives would lead in all three levels of government in Toronto.
All-day trains along existing corridors of the provincially run GO Transit service, an expansion from rush-hour only service, is expected to be a big hit in the vote-rich suburbs surrounding Toronto.
"This will probably be well accepted and good politics in the 905 area," Steeve is heard to say on the phone call, which included such notable Liberal insiders as former health minister George Smitherman and strategists Bob Richardson and Andrew Steele.
People who hire an immigrant for their first job in Ontario would be eligible for a tax credit on the first $10,000 of costs associated with the hiring, a plan that raised some concern on the Liberal conference call.
"It reminded me a little bit of the potential blow back that we could see by positioning it from the opposition as an affirmative action program," said Steele.
If elected, the party would also create three new undergraduate campuses at universities across the province, but the Liberals won't specify locations because they don't want candidates saying they'll be fighting for those spots.
The Liberals promise to make permanent the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund and the Eastern Ontario Economic Development Fund, raising concerns with Smitherman that jurisdictions such as Hamilton which haven't asked for similar funds soon will.
"Just highlighting a danger," Smitherman said.
The Liberal platform includes 68 promises, 45 of them new, and would cost about $1.5 billion by year four. By contrast, the Liberals say the Progressive Conservative platform would cost $4 billion by the fourth year and the NDP's plan about $2.6 billion.
Liberals target shortfall
The Liberals believe they've been successful in convincing people there is a $14-billion shortfall in the PC's platform numbers.
"The $14-billion hole is basically just our excuse to say that he [Hudak]
is going to go after health care and education, because that's the main message we want to drive," said McGuinty strategist Alicia Johnston. "You know you can't trust this guy with our health care and education systems."
The Liberals want to emphasize to voters the importance of sticking with the party and the leader people know during challenging economic times.
"The main theme of this platform is that it is a serious plan for serious times," said Steeve.
The source who made the audio recording of the conference call available to The Canadian Press requested anonymity and said a Liberal was the "fundamental source" for the file.