PORT COLBORNE, Ont. – With Ontario’s election just over a week away, Doug Ford has yet to present a fully costed platform for his party despite repeated calls from his opponents to show his plan for the province.
At a news conference in Port Colborne, Ont., on Tuesday, the Progressive Conservative leader was asked repeatedly when he would lay out how he intends to fund the billions in promises he has made during the campaign, but would only say that it will be before the June 7 vote.
Ford said he has already presented his plan through policy announcements in recent weeks, but none of those announcements explain exactly where the money will come from. The former Toronto city councillor has consistently said he will trim four per cent of the provincial budget without cutting any jobs.
“We have a plan, we’ve put a price tag beside every single item … but by the end of this campaign, we will have a fully costed platform,” he said.
When pressed further, he referred reporters to his party’s campaign website. “Go to ontariopc.com, go online … you’re going to see our plan, a great plan, a plan for the people.”
The website — ontariopc.ca — has a section titled “platform” that shows images of Ford and others with labels such as “stop the carbon tax” and “audit Kathleen Wynne” that link to the party’s various campaign promises.
Under the section called “balance the budget,” the site says, “our kids shouldn’t have to pay for Kathleen Wynne’s mistakes. It’s time to respect the taxpayer and balance the budget!”
The Tories, who had a hefty lead in the polls going into the campaign, are now competing with the NDP for first place.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath compared Ford’s lack of platform to asking someone to sign a contract without the numbers filled in.
“I think not only is it shameful that they haven’t put a platform out but it’s insulting to voters. People are already at the polls. Folks are already voting in the advance polls,” she said. “There’s nine days left to election day and Mr. Ford is somebody who talks a great game around respecting the taxpayer (and) is really being very disrespectful to voters.”
Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne also said it was disrespectful for Ford to keep voters in the dark.
“It’s challenging for the people of the province to know exactly where he’s coming from. It’s disrespectful to the people of the province. We’ve had to be very very clear for five years about exactly what it is we are doing and that’s the way it should be.”
The Liberals released what they said is a tally of all the announcements and promises Ford has made over the campaign, which they said amount to a $40 billion gap over three years.
That the Tories have come this far without presenting a costed plan “raises a lot of alarm bells” but is also in keeping with the overall tone of their campaign, which has seen candidates largely avoid debates, said Myer Siemiatycki, a professor of politics at Toronto’s Ryerson University.
It will be difficult to balance the party’s campaign commitments with the province’s revenue, he said.
“Because of its inherent difficulty, I suspect what’s going to happen is we are going to get a release of something that will be called a program and budget as close to the election date as the Conservatives feel they can get away with, leaving as little time as possible for criticism, for evaluation, for number-checking and accounting of money in and money out,” the professor said.
“This does not reflect well on how a deliberate, thoughtful, open election campaign should be run and I think it kind of suggests that if we’re not getting transparency when they’re trying to win our confidence and our votes, what’s it going to be like … once they have a mandate?”
Had the Tories maintained their comfortable lead, they might not have felt the need to issue a platform at all and simply appealed to people’s trust, he said. The fact that they appear to recognize the need to put something out now suggests they know their support has eroded somewhat, he said.
Ford’s rivals were also forced to defend some of their proposals Tuesday, with Horwath reaffirming her pledge to lower rates and buy back shares of Hydro One.
Horwath, facing criticism from the Tories and Liberals for her hydro plan, said one of the first acts of a New Democrat government will be to gather expert advice on how to best conduct the share buyback of the partially privatized utility.
She listed companies including Heinz, Panera Bread, and Dell, that initially went public and then later bought back shares.
Horwath said the NDP would use the dividend paid by Hydro One to the province — roughly $350 million per year — to buy back shares, which the Progressive Conservatives say would benefit shareholders.
Horwath has pledged to slash rates by 30 per cent through a number of measures and spend up to $4.1 billion buying back shares of Hydro One.
— with files from Shawn Jeffords and Colin Perkel