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The Salon is ONW's weekly gathering place where three of Canada's brightest and most respected political strategists - John Capobianco , Marit Stiles and Richard Mahoney - come together to analyze national issues affecting Ontario.

Can you smell an election in the air? Premier Wynne has been making major announcements for several weeks now in the lead up to the budget.


Richard Mahoney:

Premier Wynne's big speech this week in Toronto laid out some specific items that will be the key measures in this week's Ontario Budget: A $29 billion transit plan that includes massive expansion of urban transit in the province, including light rail, expanded GO Transit service, subways and highway improvements; a $2.5 billion Jobs And Prosperity Fund that builds on a number of measures Ontario takes to support job creation in the province; and another $1 billion for all-season industrial and community transportation to bring road and infrastructure development to the Ring of Fire.

All this in advance of this week's budget underlines a key political point. This Premier believes that targeted investments in our economic future are the most important way to ensure that we get the kind of economic growth and jobs that benefit the widest number of people.

She is happy to let the Opposition explain why they oppose those ideas in an election they are likely to cause in the next couple of weeks.

John Capobianco:

I will give the Liberals credit for sticking to their pre budget plan, which was leaked by the PC's. Their "BLT" (aka "Budget Leak Team") and their strategy to leak key policy initiatives that will be in the budget in order to build up public support and resistance for when the real budget speech is announced on Thursday. Hmmm, I wonder if there will be any surprises...

That said, the economy and jobs will form the centrepiece issues in what will likely be an election in the coming weeks.

The Liberals want us to believe they can implement the massive outlay of spending announcements they've unveiled without raising taxes.

Tim Hudak's 'Million Jobs Plan' is reasonable, well thought-out and, more importantly, believable.

What I want to know - and Ontarians want to know - is where are Andrea Horwath and the NDP during this debate?

Marit Stiles:

Right here, John! Well, at least this New Democrat is. Where will Andrea Horwath and the NDP Caucus be during this debate?

Forging ahead, as they have always done, with proposals for how we can build a more fair and prosperous Ontario, for all Ontarians, of course. I know the burning question on all our minds is "will they or won't they support the budget?" And my understanding is that the NDP plans to look very carefully at the budget being proposed by the Liberals and to consider whether it's in the best interests of Ontarians to let it pass or to go to the polls.

Andrea Horwath and the NDP haven't sat on the sidelines with Tim Hudak and the Conservatives over the last three years. They've been using this opportunity to try to make real gains for Ontarians, and I think they have done that. They'll be weighing whether the Liberal budget (that the Liberals are spending millions to slowly unveil with much fanfare) is worth supporting.

Sadly, the Liberals keep making the same mistakes, over and over. Ontario's unemployment rate has been above the national average since January 2006. That's nearly 10 years. We're still down more than 300,000 manufacturing jobs.

Can a government mired in scandal and with an abysmal record on the economy and jobs still have the confidence of Ontario voters? We'll see....

Richard Mahoney:

Both Marit's and John's responses are interesting. They don't seem to oppose these targeted measures at creating jobs, but their parties do. The NDP criticized these measures, and joined the Conservative attack on these as corporate welfare. These arguments are not credible and shouldn't be taken very seriously.

  1. But it also requires incentives. We are competing with other provinces and states to attract these jobs.

The NDP criticism of the government's economic record is laughable. First, when they were in government in Ontario, one in eight of us were on welfare. Secondly, it is precisely the kinds of measures that Premier Wynne unveiled this week that has allowed Ontario to weather the economic storm facing this province over the last number of years.

The global economic crisis hit us hard. Manufacturing economies in North America face stiff competition from Asia, Brazil and other countries. Is there any evidence at all that Andrea Horwath could manage these threats to our economy? Has she said much of what she would do to face these complex challenges?

Sadly, the answer is no to both these questions and that is likely to be the focus of an election campaign if, as many expect, she instructs her caucus to oppose this budget.

John Capobianco:

Marit, your question on whether this government still has the confidence of Ontario voters is a valid one and will ultimately be the ballot question. Can they trust the Liberals - after 10 plus years of massive spending mismanagement (ORNGE, E-health, etc.) - to reduce our debt and lower taxes?

The fact that the Liberals' support has been dropping is indicative of how Ontario voters are viewing the Grits these days.

Richard is right that the issue of jobs will be paramount in this election, and Richard is also correct in saying that the PC's criticized the Liberal measures. We did so because we fundamentally believe they are flawed.

 Corporate welfare doesn't work in the long term and it picks winners and losers as to who gets government subsidies - you cannot subsidize your way to prosperity.

What is important is to establish confidence in our economy and to lay out a plan that stops job loses in bad times, but brings us back to prosperity in the good times. A lesson we should take from the late federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Ottawa’s Conservative government.

Tim Hudak's plan to: 1) lower taxes and reduce debt;  2) bring in a plan for affordable energy;  3) train skilled workers;  4) increase trade;  and 5) end bureaucratic runaround that inhibits job creation, is the way to go.

Ontarians will agree if and when the election takes place.

Marit Stiles:

The Liberal election platform, er, budget plan, is little more than a repeat of what we've seen for the last ten years, and I think if you ask the average Ontarian how the province has "weathered the economic crisis," you'll not be getting as rosy a picture as Richard presents.

Over the last few weeks, they've rolled out billions in promises but haven't said how they will be paying for it. And their idea of "managing threats to our economy" is to continue throwing money at corporations without any commitment to transparency or accountability.

The Liberals keep re-announcing the same funds and hoping the same tired ideas will have new results.

I like the NDP's idea of a Job Creation Tax Credit that rewards job creators... but with strings attached. (And incidentally, if the Liberals were serious about transparency, why don't they release the contracts they've signed with these companies?)

I want to close with Wynne's announcement about the Ring of Fire, because here again we have an announcement, finally (what timing!) after 5 long years of Liberal inaction. The Liberal government stood by as companies walked away from the Ring of Fire...and they've heard these promises before. It amounts to money for infrastructure, but money that's contingent on federal monies. There is no timeline or guarantee on this.

At the end of the day, should we go to the polls, voters are going to be looking for real solutions, not empty promises.

The Liberals are mired in scandal. And no matter how they try to wrap up their promises in shiny new packaging, it's the same old tired, failed approach.

Not a great way to head into a campaign.




About The Salon

Richard Mahoney is a former Liberal advisor to Rt. Hon. Paul Martin; Marit Stiles is a federal and Ontario NDP strategist; and John Capobianco is a former CPC candidate and long-time party activist in both the federal and Ontario Conservative parties
Posted date : April 30, 2014

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