Nfld. & Labrador

Tory 'blue book' will cost $254M, but Ches Crosbie says he can deliver

The Progressive Conservative Party released its 'blue book' election platform Tuesday in St. John's, a day after the Liberals revealed a no-surprise political platform of their own.

Tax relief, affordable child care and external review of government among campaign promises

PC Leader Ches Crosbie released his party's 'blue book' campaign platform Tuesday in St. John's. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

PC Leader Ches Crosbie revealed his party's election platform Tuesday in St. John's, with tax relief, affordable child care and intense scrutiny of government spending at the heart of the plan.

The so-called PC blue book, built on the pledge to create jobs and hope, an affordable future and honest leadership, offers a list of promises that will cost $254 million annually once implemented, but Crosbie says the plan is affordable.

And he promises to balance the province's strained books by the end of his first term as premier in 2022-23, which is the same timeframe being proposed by the incumbent Liberals.

"The question for the public is: who do you believe? Who do you think is actually going to do it?" Crosbie told reporters.

Repealing insurance tax, and the levy

The PCs are promising $170 million in tax relief by removing the retail sales tax on home and auto insurance, and immediately abandoning the controversial levy on residents that was introduced by the Liberals in 2016.

That goes farther than the Liberal promise to scrap the tax on auto insurance, and remove the levy by the end of 2019.

"Under our plan, when we get in, within the first 200 days, we are repealing the levy. You will not pay that for 2019," Crosbie said.

I think the spending in this book is reasonable and moderate.- Ches Crosbie

The Tories will also invest $23 million to make child care more affordable, with a pledge that families earning less than $150,000 will pay no more than $25 per day. And families earning less than $32,500 will receive a full subsidy.

It's part of the PC party's initiative to tackle what Crosbie calls a population and demographic crisis.

"It's a necessity to preserve the future of this province," Crosbie said of the child-care initiative.

The PC 'Yes With Ches' campaign blue book promises will cost $254 million a year if implemented, but Crosbie says the money will be there. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

And a Crosbie government will also spend $1 million to conduct an external review of the province's spending, and establish a premier's task force to review the $3-billion health-care system.

Crosbie said the health system is the most costly in the country, with the worst outcomes.

"We must address that. It is a scandal. And we will do that with a concerted effort to deliver the right treatment to the right patient at the right time," he said.

The plan includes $4 million so patients travelling for medical reasons can receive 100 per cent reimbursement for their costs. Currently, the plan is cost-shared.

There's more money for the arts community, education, an autism strategy, moose fencing, a venture capital fund for technology companies, and a new cardiac centre of excellence.

And in another bid to woo Liberal voters, a Tory government would also remove any age restrictions on insulin pumps for those with diabetes, which would cost $2 million annually.

Where will the money come from?

So where will the money come from?

Crosbie says $135 million annually will come from the Hibernia dividend agreement signed recently between Liberal governments in Ottawa and Newfoundland and Labrador.

That drew fire from Tom Osborne, the Liberal candidate in Waterford Valley, who said his party instead plans to use the Hibernia dividend to reduce the provincial government's borrowing requirements.

"If Mr. Crosbie wants to use the Atlantic Accord money to spend, instead of reducing the amount we need to borrow, then that means tomorrow we need to spend even more money, because you need to pay that debt back," he said. "If you borrow a dollar, you got to pay back a dollar plus interest."

According to their election platform, the Ball government plan to borrow about $1.2 billion in the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

The PC campaign is also making the assumption that tax revenue will increase by $80 million, despite the promised tax relief, and that oil revenues will climbed by tens of millions.

Crosbie is also pledging to push Ottawa hard for increased health and social transfers.

Liberal candidate Tom Osborne is the finance minister in the incumbent Ball government, and says he will return as finance minister if he and the Liberal Party are re-elected. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

Osborne attacked the whole PC platform as fiscally irresponsible, saying the party was working to "borrow people's support in this election by promising everything to everybody."

Crosbie had earlier said that the spending in the blue book is "reasonable and moderate."

First 200 days

Crosbie also revealed an ambitious plan for the first 200 days of a PC administration, including a so-called Honesty in Politics Act that will require politicians to live up to their promises.

Crosbie offered few details on how this might work, or who would hold politicians accountable if they step outside the boundaries of the act. He said he would "move carefully and get advice from experts," and "we will be the most progressive jurisdiction in terms of democratic reform when we do that."

What's not included in the plan is any reference to a "debt-brake law," which was the language used by Crosbie in earlier commitments to force future governments to balance the budget.

It's now called the Taxpayer Protection Act, and Crosbie said it may be late in his first mandate before its implemented because he doesn't want to "shock" the economy by slashing hundreds of millions in spending in order to balance the books.

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