Toronto Sun - Jonathan Jenkins and Antonella Artuso
TORONTO - Careful all you red hot sportsmen and women out there.
Everyone knows it's voting season but that doesn't mean you can easily tell who to vote for. As any befuddled Voter Fudd would tell you, the Tim Bunnies and Dalton Ducks you're chasing delight in leading you astray.
That's especially so this year, as the early campaigning for the Oct. 6 provincial election has consisted largely of Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak reeling off the list of Premier Dalton McGuinty's policies he'd keep if he wins office.
The new harmonized sales tax, that Hudak vowed to do everything in his power to keep from being implemented? He'd keep it.
The health premium, the Tories had once vowed to kill? He'll keep it.
Full-day kindergarten, once dismissed as a "shiny new car" the province could ill afford? He'll keep that, too.
The pattern was repeated last week as Hudak unveiled his campaign wheels -- a Gulfstream Conquest RV dubbed the Changemobile.
With a phalanx of local candidates behind him, Hudak told reporters he would not undo Liberal reforms on drug purchasing which have upset independent pharmacies, nor would he undo expanded taxing powers granted to City Hall under the revamped Toronto Act, or tinker with the Grits' policies on building new nuclear reactors to maintain the province's level of nuclear generation.
He bristled though, at the suggestion he wasn't offering much more than a change of curtains at Queen's Park.
"People want to see change and they're turning to the Ontario PC Party for that change, and very clear different approaches than the Liberal McGuinty government," Hudak said.
"Change that will actually put more money back in your pockets, instead of Dalton McGuinty's constant tax hikes," Hudak said.
"Change that will actually take a different approach on energy -- to make sure it's reliable and affordable to families who have to pay the bills, instead of their expensive energy experiments. And change that will actually set priorities, like health and education, rather than trying to be all things to all people under the sun."
Hudak has little interest, though, in being too specific at this early stage in the campaign. The Tories are still sporting a visible wound from former leader John Tory's quixotic commitment to funding faith-based schools — a monstrously unpopular idea that doomed his 2007 campaign and gifted the Liberals a huge victory
By keeping his promises vague, Hudak makes himself a harder target for the Liberals and the New Democrats, and as long as he's maintaining a lead in the polls, he's likely to avoid being too definitive.
He's also doing his best to remove some potentially troublesome issues from the equation — fearful the Liberals' popular full-day kindergarten plan could prove to be a stick the Grits could beat them with, Hudak moved to embrace the plan.
That's why, despite praising former premier Mike Harris as his mentor and having the author of the Common Sense Revolution front and centre at last month's annual party convention, Hudak was quick to reassure voters he will match the Liberals projected spending in health and education.
But that doesn't mean the differences aren't there.
A central theme of a Hudak government would be greater local control and input on a variety of issues.
Tory officials are clear and say their leader will have more on the subject as the campaign goes on — parents, teachers and principals will have greater input and control over decisions affecting their schools, taking on authority that school boards now have. Zero tolerance discipline will make a comeback in Ontario schools, with principals and teachers having the ability to remove bullies from their classrooms and decisions about whether chocolate milk or cellphones are allowed on the premises will be made locally.
The Tories say they want to free up teachers to teach and to decentralize the system, taking control away from bureaucrats and sending it down to the schools.
They'd keep full-day kindergarten, but they're open to ideas on how it could be changed — including looking at allowing off-site before and after school care. And it hasn't escaped the PCs' attention that Dr. Charles Pascal, who crafted the model for full-day kindergarten for the Liberals, recommended splitting the class between an early childhood educator and a teacher, as opposed to the current model where an ECE assists a teacher all day.
Post-secondary education would see colleges given control over apprenticeship programs and the current ratio of three journeymen to one apprentice reduced to one to one, unlike the existing system where government funds are channeled to training centres run by colleges, employers and unions.
The Tories say they'd make it easier for students to transfer credits between college and university and they'd lower the threshold for OSAP eligibility, so more middle-class students could qualify.
Local decision making would also be restored in the energy sector, where the Liberals' Green Energy Act makes it difficult for municipalities to reject renewable energy projects.
The Tories wouldn't scrap the act but they would gut it — the feed-in-tariff (FIT) subsidies for wind, solar and biomass power would be gone and replaced by a competitive bidding process, overseen by possibly the finance or infrastructure ministries.
Once the government figured out how much of a particular generation type it needs, the ministry would entertain bids from prospective suppliers, instead of the current system in which the Liberals have tried to kickstart a whole new manufacturing industry to support wind and solar farms.
"The plans that we've presented don't constitute a chapter and verse idea of the governance that we'll have to bring to Ontario," PC MPP Peter Shurman said of the Tory platform.
"What they look at is a general idea of what Ontarians can expect.
"They should expect lower taxes; they should expect a break on the staples that have come under the heavy hand of the HST, and I'm talking specifically of electricity and energy; they should look at the elimination of red tape so that there are jobs out there and businesses are in a position to prosper; they should look at a guarantee that their health care is going to be nurtured, taken care of and improved with dollars going towards it and efficiencies brought to it; they should look at the fact that education, including an increase in spending on education and the maintenance of all-day kindergarten all matter; they should look at stability in their social structure; and they should look at an increase in their opportunities.
"That's the two aspects that I think come across most from our plans."
The Liberals aren't expected to release their platform until much later in the summer but they've also been clear they will run on their record over the past eight years.
New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath — playing a flitting Tweety Bird watching cartoon cats scrapping below — is expected to release a "vision statement" at a party convention later this month.