Analysis

Front-runners embracing risks in Ontario election campaign

Taking risks is something politicians traditionally try to avoid during an election campaign - and in that sense, this 2014 Ontario campaign has already been anything but traditional.

Andrea Horwath's cautious approach contrasts bold positions from Tim Hudak and Kathleen Wynne

Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak released a campaign platform Wednesday that included promised cuts to education and "corporate welfare" alike in a bid to eliminate the deficit by 2016-17. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

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.

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

For her part, Kathleen Wynne is betting her job on the big-spending budget that brought down her minority government.
Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne brought down a budget May 2 that raised taxes and will add to the provincial debt, and was running for re-election within days. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

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.

There is certainly room for middle ground, perhaps an opportunity for the far-left party. But Andrea Horwath is also taking a risk, at this point, by failing to deliver a big promise of her own. The NDP leader grabbed the province's attention when she pronounced she would not support the Wynne budget, triggering an election. Now she's in danger of being left on the sidelines in the race she orchestrated.
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath on Wednesday announced a proposed "minister of accountability" to find budget savings and has pledged $100 million for child care. (The Canadian Press)

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.

About the Author

Genevieve Tomney

Ontario Votes

Genevieve Tomney joined CBC News as a reporter in 2007. She's had the opportunity to work on both the east and west coasts of Canada in Vancouver, Halifax, Fredericton and Saint John. In 2010, she jumped at the chance to move back to her hometown of Toronto and join the CBC News Toronto team. She has covered major stories for CBC News, from the Russell Williams sentencing hearings in Belleville to the Toronto leg of CBC's Gemini Award-nominated coverage of the Queen's 2010 Royal Visit. She is reporting from the leaders' campaigns during the 2014 Ontario election.

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