Ontario election 2014: Liberal, NDP platforms short on fiscal detail, economists say

Some of the same economists who say PC Leader Tim Hudak's math skills need sharpening are also saying the Liberal and NDP platforms are lacking enough detail to allow voters to check their math.

Tory platform not only one to raise questions about the math used

Economists are questioning figures being cited by the 3 major parties. 2:37

It hasn't been a fun couple of days for Tim Hudak. A seemingly endless stream of economists have been getting plenty of ink and airtime to take issue with a key promise of the Progressive Conservative leader's campaign — his pledge to create a million jobs.

Hudak made a major miscalculation, these economists say, by confusing person-years of employment with actual jobs. The end result, according to the numbers experts, is that Hudak should dramatically dial back the number of jobs he claims his policies would create.

But Hudak defends the numbers behind his job creation plan and has thrown down the gauntlet, demanding the other two major parties defend their fiscal numbers, too.

Remember how your math teachers always demanded you "show your work" — in other words, how you arrived at your final answer?

It turns out that some of the same economists who say Hudak's math skills need sharpening are also saying the Liberals and the NDP aren't doing a good job of showing their work.

More details needed

McMaster University economist Michael Veall says the Liberal platform, which includes a pledge to implement their May 1 budget, just doesn't have enough detail.

Ontario Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne, left, and Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath don't escape economists' criticism when it comes to the amount of fiscal detail in their campaign platforms. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

"That budget doesn't really provide specifics of how cuts are going to be made further on," Veall told CBC News. "In the last two years, there will have to be severe cuts and they're not itemized," he says.

The Liberals say their fiscal platform is “fully costed” all the way to 2017-18, when they plan to balance the books. 

To do that, the Liberals say they’ll keep program spending virtually flat — $119.4 billion in the current fiscal year and the exact same in 2017-18.

The Liberals are counting on steadily rising revenues (from $118.9 billion this year to $134.8 billion in 2017-18) to eliminate the deficit and balance the books by that final year.

Some promises are indeed costed, like $29 billion for transit expansion and $1 billion for development of the mineral-rich Ring of Fire area in northern Ontario. But economists say there isn't enough detail overall.  

On May 26, Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne answered a question about whether the Liberals would cut public sector jobs to balance the books with a vague, “it’s complicated.”

The next day, she put a little more flesh on that by acknowledging that there will not be a complete hiring freeze in the public service.

We can't tell whether or not the numbers make sense or don't make sense because they won't cite anything- Economist Mike Moffatt

"I'm not going to apologize for hiring nurses and doctors and personal support workers and education assistants," Wynne said, as she moved to differentiate her party from Hudak's pledge to cut 100,000 public sector jobs.

"We are going to build this province up, so the public sector will be at least as big at the end of our term, if we’re re-elected, as it is now."

The NDPdoesn't escape the charge of being too vague, either. Western University economist Mike Moffatt says NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is offering even less detail than the Liberals.

"We can't tell whether or not the numbers make sense or don't make sense, because they won't cite anything," he complains.

Banking on rooting out waste

Horwath, for her part, said Thursday she's "happy to sit down with the people that we worked with to put our plan together."

The NDP campaign platform promises to bring in a variety of measures the party says would save a total of $3.71 billion by 2017-18, when it also says it will be able to balance the province's books. The measures include closing corporate “tax loopholes” and stopping “corporate tax giveaways.” Horwath is also proposing to raise the corporate tax rate from 11.5 per cent to 12.5 per cent.

“We care about a taxation system that’s fair and that makes sense,” she said Thursday in Toronto. “That’s why we’re going to roll up that corporate tax rate a tiny bit to help us with transit.”

Horwath has also pledged that an NDP government would appoint a new “savings and accountability” minister whose sole job would be to find $600 million in savings annually.

“There is a lot of waste in the system — I know that for sure,” she said two weeks ago.

The NDP platform is silent on exactly where that $600 million in savings might come from. One broad hint emerged on the campaign trail on Wednesday, when Kitchener-Waterloo NDP candidate Catherine Fife said the NDP's new accountability minister would look to find efficiencies in the health-care and post-secondary education sectors

The economists say all of the major parties need to spell out their fiscal platforms with enough detail to allow Ontarians to cast informed votes.

"I'm hoping that parties don't get rewarded by just basically making up a bunch of numbers with no details whatsoever and throwing them out there to the public," Moffatt said.

With files from Nil Koksal


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