Ontario NDP platform proposes big spending on health care, social services

The Ontario NDP revealed its election platform on Monday as the party looks to sway disillusioned voters to its camp.

Polls have put the NDP firmly behind their rivals heading into June 7 election

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath addresses supporters at a rally in Toronto on Monday, April 16, 2018, as she unveils her party's platform for the forthcoming provincial election. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

An NDP government would provide free licensed daycare for families earning less than $40,000 per year while most other families would pay about $12 per day for child care, the party said in its election platform unveiled on Monday. 

The pledge is one element of a wide-ranging platform that also includes significant new spending on health care and social services. The NDP plans to pay for its plans by running deficits, while also increasing the corporate tax rate from 11.5 per cent to 13 per cent, raising taxes on high-wage earners and introducing a new three per cent surcharge on luxury cars that cost more than $90,000.

Several key pillars of the platform challenge similar commitments made by Premier Kathleen Wynne's government in the 2018 provincial budget, which will form the backbone of the Liberals' own platform.

The NDP is releasing the plan, "Change for the Better," as it aims to attract voters disillusioned with the Liberals but wary of the free-wheeling style of Ontario PC Leader Doug Ford.

"For too long, the people of Ontario have been forced to settle for less than what we know is possible," NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said in a speech to supporters at Toronto Western Hospital.

"We've been told to switch back and forth, from the Liberals to the Conservatives and back again. As though the only choice is between bad and worse. And look where it's gotten us."

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath unveiling her party's platform Monday in Toronto. The New Democrats are trying to attract voters disillusioned with the Liberals but wary of the free-wheeling style of Ontario PC Leader Doug Ford. (Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The NDP's child care plan comes against a backdrop of sky-high prices for daycare in the province, particularly in the Greater Toronto Area. Fully licensed, not-for-profit daycare would be free for families earning less than $40,000 annually. The party says an average family would pay $12, however it could not specify the approximate earnings of a family that would pay that rate.

Costs for individual families would be determined on a means-tested, sliding scale and the plan will be phased in over five years.

The plan also includes a promise to create some 202,000 new child care spaces in Ontario, a nearly 51 per cent increase from what's currently available. According to the NDP, its child care strategy will cost $375 million in the first year alone, before jumping to more than a $1 billion the following year.

By 2023, the price tag rises to more than $3 billion annually. 

The Liberals have said they will make full-day daycare free for children aged 2-and-a-half until they are eligible for kindergarten, as part of a $2.2 billion investment. 

"Our plan is not based on your little one's age. It's based on making sure everyone has childcare they can afford," said Horwath.

Party focusing on health issues

The NDP also wants to substantially expand drug and dental coverage, issues that featured prominently in the Liberal budget. Horwath previously outlined the two-part plan in March. It includes full dental coverage for all workers, including part-time and contract employment, as well as coverage for low-income children and retired seniors living without a pension. 

Similarly, the NDP is proposing to build 70 new public dental clinics and to put seven new dental care mobile buses on the road. 

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath unveiled a proposal Monday for fully licensed, not-for-profit daycare that's free for everyone in the province making less than $40,000 annually as part of the New Democrats' election platform. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

The $475-million universal pharmacare plan will initially cover 125 of the most commonly prescribed drugs for everyone in the province, regardless of employment status or income. It will also cover many take-home cancer medicines and drug treatments often used by those transitioning to another gender. 

Among the most significant spending commitments in the NDP platform is a 5.3 per cent increase in yearly hospital funding at an initial cost of $916 million. Funding will then increase to match inflation each year. 

In all, the NDP says it would commit some $19 billion in funding for hospitals over a 10-year period, as well as create 2,000 new hospital beds.

Party would run multi-billion dollar deficits

In a speech to supporters, Horwath reiterated her promise to cut hydro bills by 30 per cent and return Hydro One to public ownership. While independent analysts have said buying back the electrical utility would cost the province billions, the NDP says it can avoid passing any costs onto taxpayers by using dividends for the purchase.

Other key commitments in the platform include:

  • Conversion of all student debt into grants.
  • 15,000 new long-term care beds by 2023.
  • A new ministry of mental health and addictions.
  • 65,000 new affordable housing units.
  • Increases to rates paid by Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program.
  • 15 per cent reduction to auto insurance rates.

The party projects five consecutive deficits to pay for its plan, with a $3.3 billion deficit in 2018-2019 and a $1.9 billion deficit in 2022-2023.

The platform was analyzed by former federal parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page, who says its costing of individual measures is "reasonable."

To help pay for its promises, an NDP government would raise personal income tax on those earning over $220,000 by one per cent. Anyone making over $300,000 annually would see a two percent increase in personal income tax. 

The NDP is similarly proposing an annual "Housing Speculation Tax" targeted at foreign and domestic real estate speculators who don't pay any other taxes in Ontario.