Ontario NDP focus on 'fundamentals' in party platform

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has released a campaign platform that includes promises to raise corporate tax rates and cut auto insurance rates in the first year of an NDP mandate.

Promises to hike corporate taxes, cut auto insurance rates, restore northern passenger rail service

Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath delivered her campaign platform Thursday, outlining plans to raise the corporate tax rate, create a caregiver tax credit and restore passenger rail service to Northern Ontario. (The Canadian Press)

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has released a campaign platform that includes promises to raise corporate tax rates and cut auto insurance rates in the first year of an NDP mandate.

The platform features a mix of new and previously announced measures, with an emphasis on "fundamentals for families," in a bid to woo voters ahead of the June 12 provincial election

In announcing a plan heavy on pocketbook issues, Horwath assailed the Liberals for wasting taxpayer's dollars in scandals such as the gas-plant fiasco.

"You deserve a government that makes sense, that respects your tax dollars and invests them in your priorities," she said. "That's what the New Democrats are offering."

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But the platform also includes a promise to freeze tuition fees and a plan to eliminate interest on student loans.

"It is not acceptable that people finish their post-secondary studies and have debts the size of mortgages," Horwath said. "We are going to get this under control."

The NDP also want to forgive up to $20,000 a year of student debt for doctors who agree to work in under-serviced areas.

Other highlights of the plan include:

  • A balanced budget by 2017-18. This is the same year the Liberals plan to return to balance and a year later than the PCs' plan.
  • An increase to Ontario's corporate tax rate to 12.5 per cent. It's currently at 11.5 per cent. The PCs have vowed to drop it to eight per cent.
  • A promise to restore passenger service on Ontario Northland Rail. The service operated at a loss before it was cancelled in 2012, angering residents in Northern Ontario who must endure long bus rides to travel south for medical treatments.
  • A promise to reduce auto insurance rates by 15 per cent in the first year.
  • The purchase of 200 additional snowplows and sand trucks.
  • A plan to widen 60 kilometres of highway every year.
  • A new fund to help people retrofit homes to make them more energy efficient.
  • A vow to eliminate wait lists for long-term care beds.
  • A $1,275 caregiver tax credit for those looking after relatives who are ill. Horwath says the move would help seniors live at home as long as possible, and cost taxpayers $230 million a year.
  • A promise to conduct an environmental assessment of pipeline projects
  • Funding for one cycle of in-vitro fertilization for couples struggling to conceive. This matches a Liberal plan to do the same. 
  • Tougher rules on government partisan advertising.
  • New limits on the use of consultants.
  • Nutritional programs for children "to make sure they have a healthy start on life."
  • Moves to ensure kids have access to dental care, something Horwath says is "long overdue."
  • Targeted tax cuts for companies that create jobs, up to $5,000 per employee, but with "strings attached" to make sure the strategy achieves its goals.

Platform details outlined in previous announcements:

  • Appointment of a minister of savings and accountability. The NDP says this will save the province $600 million a year, but didn't offer specifics. Horwath also vowed to get a financial accountability office up and running.
  • Capping salaries of public-sector CEOs. Horwath announced plans to do this last year. On Thursday she said this will be a "hard cap."
  • A plan to open new 24-hour health clinics.
  • The NDP would take the provincial portion of the HST off hydro bills and repeal the debt retirement charge, saving the average household about $200 a year. "People tell me they open the hydro bill and nearly fall off their chair," said Horwath. "We can do better than that."
  • A plan to cut emergency room wait times in half, largely through increase use of nurse practitioners. This was announced earlier in the week.
  • An open-schools fund to retrofit closed schools to "keep them part of the community" and allow them open after hours.

One notable omission from the NDP platform was a made-in-Ontario pension plan, which the Liberals are promising.

Horwath said Thursday her party supports the idea in principle but said she wants to see what happens in the 2015 federal election before committing provincial dollars to it.

"We may actually get a federal government that will take pension plans seriously," said Horwath. "We are the party that first began to talk about pension security for Ontarians."

Liberals dismiss platform as 'waste of time'

Liberal candidate Brad Duguid criticized Horwath's decision to vote against the May 1 budget with every answer during a news conference after the NDP announcement.

"This platform really is a bit of a waste of Ontarians' time," said Duguid, the incumbent in the riding of Scarborough Centre.

"She could have achieved a lot of objectives in this platform, albeit by different ways, more effective ways, had she voted for the Liberal budget. She could have avoided this unnecessary, expensive election campaign altogether."

Former NDP advisor Gerry Caplan said on the CBC's Power and Politics Thursday that many NDPers don't understand why Wynne's budget was voted down either.

"Kathleen Wynne has a budget and it has all these quite explicit measures and then she's not going to introduce any of them because she can't be trusted? No, I don't buy it at all," he said.

"It was simply an ad hominem attack on the premier who was introducing these terrific measures and now they're gone, maybe gone forever.

"The problems that Ms. Horwath has created for the NDP (are) not only failing to attract new voters but detracting old voters who are seriously considering now, listen to this, voting Liberal in order to keep the Hudak menace at bay."

PC leader Tim Hudak said earlier in the day he hoped the NDP would focus on growing payrolls and not adding to bureaucracy, calling this a single-issue election.

The PCs unveiled their full platform last Wednesday, the Green Party's platform came out last Tuesday and while the Liberals are running primarily on their voted-down budget, they're holding an official launch for their platform on Sunday.

Mobile users, read the Ontario NDP platform here.