Ontario Progressive Conservative leader defends platform spending


TORONTO — A day after launching an election platform that promises billions in new spending, Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown is defending his plan as an affordable alternative to the current Liberal government’s spending habits.

Brown says his plan, launched Saturday at a policy convention in Toronto, is fully costed and will not see a Tory government run deficits beyond its first year if elected.

The platform says if the PCs win the 2018 election they would run a $2.8 billion deficit in 2018-2019, posting modest surpluses which range from $8 million in 2019-2020 to $767 million in 2021-2022.

Asked if there was a risk a PC government would slip into deficit throughout the rest of its term, he denied the suggestion.

“Absolutely not,” Brown said. “We are going to pay down over one billion dollars on the debt. … (The platform is) fully costed. It’s affordable. The numbers have been verified by senior economists in this country.”

Brown is referring to former federal Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page who the party says has reviewed the spending package and deemed it “reasonable”.

Brown also denied that the party’s strategy is to spend, instead of treading a path of traditional fiscal conservatism, in order to beat an Ontario Liberal Party that has won four consecutive elections.

“I think offering a pretty significant tax cut … is giving significant relief that I know conservatives across the province are excited about,” he said.

Brown added that the Tory plan to repay some of the provinces’s debt — which sits at approximately $312 billion — is “music to the ears of conservatives.”

The Tory plan promises a tax cut for the middle class, a child care tax credit, a further 12 per cent cut to hydro rates and $1.9 billion in new mental health spending over the next decade.

The platform would also spend $5 billion to build new subways in Toronto and cover the costs of millions more in maintenance and infrastructure for the Toronto Transit Commission.

The Tory tax cuts would reduce costs for Ontarians with the lowest incomes by 2022. People making up to $42,960 would see their tax rate cut from 5.05 per cent to 4.5 per cent. People making from $42,960 to $85,923 would see their tax rate cut from 9.15 per cent to 7.1 per cent.

The plan would also introduce the Ontario Child Care Refund, a tax credit based on household income. Under the plan, a mother who earns $35,000 a year and has a child under six would be eligible for a refund of $6,750 in child care costs.

Brown took questions on the plan for the first time since it was unveiled, touting the child care tax credit at a day care centre on Sunday. He downplayed suggestions that by revealing the platform six months before the vote he was giving the Liberals a chance to one-up his party, which has led in the polls for months.

“I think we all know what the Liberals stand for,” Brown said. “They’ve had 14 years, 14 long years to say who they are. We know who they are.”

The PC platform — called the People’s Guarantee — contains more than 140 promises and will also keep many of the Liberal’s biggest spending initiatives. That includes a government plan to offer free pharmacare for anyone under the age of 24, all-day kindergarten and the free tuition plan for post-secondary students.

Jessica Martin, spokeswoman for Liberal Finance Minister Charles Sousa, said Sunday that the province’s budget is balanced and will be balanced over the next two years, as the Fall Economic Statement outlined earlier this month. The Tory platform will result in billions in cuts that will impact health care and education.

“Patrick Brown will say anything to anyone in order to get elected,” she said in a statement. “After waiting more than two years to learn who the real Patrick Brown is, he has revealed himself as just another Harper Conservative who wants to cut services.”

Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press