Ontarians go to polls on June 12

ONTARIO—Premier Kathleen Wynne made the long walk to the office of the Honorable David C. Onley, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario on Friday, May 2 to ask him to dissolve the legislature following an announcement by NDP leader Andrea Horwath that her party would not be supporting the 2014 Liberal budget released the day before.

Ms. Horwath ducked reporters immediately following the budget, but made her announcement aound 10 am Friday morning following a meeting with her caucus and senior strategists.

Although the Liberal budget delivered at Queen’s Park contained many provisions tailor made to placate the third party, the NDP leader said that the Liberal government has lost the confidence of her party.

Algoma-Manitoulin NDP incumbent Mike Mantha said he supported his leader’s decision and was ready to hit the hustings.

“We are ready to go,” he said on Friday morning. “We took a look at the budget and we held discussions. Andrea made her decision today. We have heard from the voters and we have listened. This government has no respect for the voters of this province.”

Asked if the decision to force an election was made over the contents of the budget, Mr. Mantha replied “it was a combination of both. We had a few items that we had asked for in the last budget and she (Premier Kathleen Wynne) couldn’t get them implemented. She wants to be captain of the ship, but she can’t build a raft.”

[pullquote]Mr. Mantha said there were three promises made to the NDP in the last budget that the Liberal government has not been able to deliver on. “Now they are making 70 promises and we do not think they will deliver them any better,” he said.[/pullquote]

Mr. Mantha said there were three promises made to the NDP in the last budget that the Liberal government has not been able to deliver on. “Now they are making 70 promises and we do not think they will deliver them any better,” he said.

Among the provisions contained in the 2014 budget were increased taxes on those making more than $150,000 a year (two percent of the population), increases in cigarette taxes and small increases (one percent) in Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support payments.

UNIFOR, the newly amalgamated union formed from the Canadian Auto Workers and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers unions, recommended Ms. Horwath pass the budget, saying the budget “deserves NDP support.”

“(It) makes a difference in the lives of working families,” said UNIFOR president Jerry Diaz. “The bottom line is that this is a decent budget.”

Several other major unions had stepped up pressure on the NDP leader in the lead up to the budget release and its immediate aftermath, but Ms. Horwath, announcing that the premier would not bully her, turned the budget down. Some pundits suggested that in doing so, the NDP leader had fallen for a carefully laid Liberal trap.

Liberal candidate for Algoma-Manitoulin (and Haweater) Craig Hughson of Elliot Lake said that although he and his campaign team are ready to go, his initial reaction to the NDP decision was one of surprise. “I am surprised but ready for this unnecessary election,” he said. “I do question how the NDP could not support this budget. Voters in Algoma-Manitoulin will want to know why Mike Mantha and the NDP are against jobs for Algoma-Manitoulin.”

Mr. Hughson, who grew up on Manitoulin Island and who once worked for former Liberal MPP Mike Brown, said he offered Algoma-Manitoulin “a strong option for election day.”

[pullquote]“A week since Horwath and Mantha indicated they were forcing an election and still no reason why aside from a lie about the financial accountability officer, and no policies from them,” Mr. Hughson added, referring to the Liberal assertion that the NDP leader had prevented at least one of their demands from being met over the past year. “Liberals have been very clear. We’re putting people ahead of politics.”[/pullquote]

“A week since Horwath and Mantha indicated they were forcing an election and still no reason why aside from a lie about the financial accountability officer, and no policies from them,” Mr. Hughson added, referring to the Liberal assertion that the NDP leader had prevented at least one of their demands from being met over the past year. “Liberals have been very clear. We’re putting people ahead of politics.”

Former candidate Joe Chapman of Little Current (also a Haweater) has indicated in the past that he would be interested in running as the Progressive Conservative candidate for MPP again. An announcement was expected shortly following The Expositor’s press deadline.

Rumours and conjecture aside, as of press time on Monday, no statement had been issued by the party or the riding association as to who the candidate might be.

Riding president Ron Swain of Bruce Mines confirmed that the riding had not yet nominated a candidate for the riding. The Progressive Conservative website lists a small number of ridings across the province that have not yet nominated a candidate, including the Sault Ste. Marie riding contested last time out by Jib Turner of Little Current. Mr. Turner is not expected to enter the contest there this time out.

It should also be noted that the writ did not officially drop and the official start of the election will not take place until today, Wednesday May 7, by which time the Progressive Conservative candidate should be known. Stay tuned to The Expositor website at manitoulin.ca for updates.

Green Party spokesperson Sarah Hutchinson said that her riding association was not prepared to conduct a candidate search at this time. “Justin Tilson (the former candidate) has been out of the country for the past six months working, so he does not qualify under the Ontario election rules,” she said. “Unless someone steps forward locally, or the party decides to parachute someone in, I don’t think we will be contesting this election.” That does not mean her party will be inactive however. “We will be focussing on our leader Mike Schriener. He is the best candidate for premier and we will be highlighting our party’s position throughout the election.”

The Ontario Progressive Conservative position on the Liberal government and the 2014 budget is well known. The Progressive Conservatives had no problem turning down the budget, particularly as the projected $12.5 billion goes against Leader of the Official Opposition Tim Hudak’s off-repeated mantra of slashing government spending and reining in union contracts.

Other provisions in the defeated Liberal budget, largely seen as a precursor campaign document before its release crafted to appeal to NDP voters, included improving the province’s transit and infrastructure as a budget priority with $130 billion spent over a 10-year period—an investment the Liberals believe will support 110,000 jobs annually.

The defeated budget turned platform included a new Ontario Retirement Pension Plan for people without a workplace pension that would require contributions from employers and workers of 1.9 per cent of salary. For instance, someone earning $70,000 a year would pay $1,263 into the pension plan and their employer would match that amount. The new plan would have been introduced in 2017. There was $29 billion over 10 years for public transit, roads, bridges and infrastructure; $11.4 billion over 10 years for hospital expansion and redevelopment projects; $11 billion over 10 years to repair, upgrade and build new elementary and high schools; $2.5 billion over 10 years for a new jobs fund which would give grants to corporations; $1 billion to help build a road to the remote Ring of Fire mineral deposit in Northern Ontario, but the money is contingent on getting matching funds from the federal government; $810 million over three years for community supports for adults with developmental disabilities; $294 million for a program that helps prevent homelessness; $32 million to expand school breakfast and lunch programs; increasing social assistance rates by one per cent for people on disability supports and welfare; replacing the Northern Allowance for people on social assistance with a Remote Communities Allowance adding $50 a month for the first person and $25 a month for each additional family member; hiking the provincial tax on aviation fuel by four cents a litre over four years; and would have increased the tobacco tax from 12.35 cents a cigarette to 13.975 cents or $3.25 on a carton of 200, but the tax rate on cigars would have remained unchanged at 56.6 percent. The Liberals have said that if reelected, they will reintroduce the budget.

The writ may not have officially fallen, but election spin is definitely in full swing. NDP house leader Gilles Bisson issued a press release heralding a Forum poll that indicated the electorate blame the Liberals for the election call—with 50 percent of Ontarians supporting the forcing of an election. That same poll indicates that 48 percent of Ontarians approved the budget and that support for the NDP had dropped following Ms. Horwath’s ‘popular’ decision to topple the government—her party now places a distant third in the polls at 22 percent (following the election call) with the Progressive Conservatives in the lead at 38 percent and the Liberals in second with 33 percent. But, due to their vote being more efficiently distributed across the province’s ridings, the poll also indicated a Liberal minority government being returned to the 107 seat legislature at Queen’s Park with 48 seats to the Progressive Conservative’s 45. The NDP would be reduced from 21 seats to 13.

But there are 41 days left in the 2014 Ontario election campaign and a lot of things can happen in politics between the dropping of the writ and the depositing of an elector’s ballot into the box. An Oraclepol survey released by the separatist (from Ontario) Heritage Party showed a deep dissatisfaction with Ontario politicians in general when it comes to handling Northern issues (there was no indication of an Ontario Heritage Party candidate). It will be up to each of the candidates to convince the electorate that they will make a change in that perception. Watch page 3 of The Expositor in the coming weeks for responses from each of the candidates to questions posed by this paper.