Front-runners embracing risks in Ontario election campaign
Andrea Horwath's cautious approach contrasts bold positions from Tim Hudak and Kathleen Wynne
Taking risks. It's something politicians traditionally try to avoid during an election campaign — and in that sense, this campaign has been anything but traditional.
Tory leader Tim Hudak's risk may be the biggest of all. In an economy where many are out of work or concerned about losing their job, talking job creation seems like a no-brainer. Enter the million jobs plan. Catchy. Bold. Exactly the kind of promise you'd expect to hear during an election campaign.
- Ontario Votes 2014: Full coverage
- PC platform sees larger class sizes, cancels teacher pay hikes
- How do your views compare with each party's platform? Try Vote Compass
And his newly-released platform goes even further, with plans to increase classroom sizes, cancel salary raises for teachers, cut another 9,700 non-teaching positions in schools and axe a renovation tax credit designed to help seniors stay in their homes longer.
Campaigns are often run on vague promises to make government more "efficient" or "lean" but Hudak's taken the unusual step of getting very specific.
And he could pay for it.
What's worked for Hudak so far is that his ideas are so clear and so controversial, it's taken the heat off a series of small gaffes (including a rather embarrassing photo-op on a Toronto subway that was derailed by transit cops), and focused the attention on his policy.
His campaign team clearly wants to keep the spotlight there. Every event this week has been tightly controlled and each speech has been delivered to a friendly, and presumably vetted, audience.
Running on risk
Yes, it will increase Ontario's deficit. Yes, it will raise taxes. Yes, it will continue to offer government money to big business to encourage those companies to create jobs. But the Liberal leader's biggest risk may be her pension plan.
Not only must Wynne convince Ontarians that government should spend more but that they should too — that forking over another $100 or so a month from their paycheques is a pill they need to swallow for their future financial health.
For now, the Liberals' proposed pension plan has been overshadowed by the debate over job creation, but don't expect the Conservatives to abandon attacks on what they call a "payroll tax."
So: two clear plans. Polar opposites and polarizing.
You can read the Liberal budget/platform. The Tories have now officially released their full campaign platform. The NDP are noticeably behind. On the party website at the time of writing, their downloadable "Plan for Affordable Change" still references "working with Jack Layton and the federal New Democrats." (The NDP relaunched its website after the publication of this article.)
Certainly, Horwath has divulged some details about her plan for job creation, unveiling a $5,000 tax credit for businesses tied to each new job created.
She's also rolled out some pocketbook promises such as taking the provincial portion of the HST off hydro bills. But, so far, the NDP plan has been coming out in dribbles. Horwath is forced to spend more time reacting to the pledges from the other party leaders, rather than setting the agenda herself.
It is still early days. But in a campaign where the two front-runners have apparently abandoned the more traditional "take no risks" approach, Horwath and the NDP may not be able to afford to play it safe much longer.