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Ontario Tories vow to cut taxes, government spending if elected in fall

Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak on March 6, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Pawel Dwulit

Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives are offering a sneak peek at their plans to rebalance the provincial books and provide tax relief ahead of the Oct. 6 election.

A Tory government would cut public sector jobs and trim government spending by two per cent until the deficit is eliminated, Leader Tim Hudak said in prepared remarks Saturday.

But he didn’t say when the Tories would lift the province out of red ink, which is projected to reach $16.3 billion this year alone.

Only the education and health-care budgets would be spared, getting a financial boost each year that the Conservatives are in power.

It effectively matches funding promises made by the governing Liberals and helps insulate Hudak from accusations that the Tories will close hospitals and provoke labour unrest in Ontario schools.

Hudak, who has already promised to pump an additional $6.1 billion into health care over four years, said the province’s education budget would rise each year until it reached an extra $2 billion in the fourth year.

At the same time, the Tories would shrink Ontario’s “bloated” public sector and bring those salaries in line with “private-sector realities,” Hudak said at the party’s annual convention in Toronto.

“It won’t be easy. I don’t look forward to it,” Hudak said in a prepared speech to the party faithful. “But it must be done — and it can be done smart.”

On the tax front, a Tory government would allow all couples to share up to $50,000 of their income — which Hudak says will save $476 for a family earning $70,000 a year.

The Tories will also cut income taxes by five per cent on the first $75,000 of taxable income, which would save $258 a year for someone earning $70,000.

Hudak promised to provide an extra layer of taxpayer protection by restoring a Tory law that would forbid the government from raising taxes without a clear mandate from voters.

Families need a break from Premier Dalton McGuinty, who repeatedly raised taxes even after signing a pledge not to in the 2003 election, Hudak said.

“With Dalton, ‘put it in writing’ isn’t a protection,” Hudak said in the prepared speech. “It’s a temptation.”

More details are expected to be released Sunday when the party unveils its 30-page election platform, called Changebook.

But Hudak provided a few hints Saturday of what’s to come if the Tories take office this fall.

Among his promises:

— double the caregiver tax credit to help people take care of children and aging parents.

— give teachers more authority in classrooms, such as banning cellphones.

— crack down on health-care fraud by requiring patients to provide OHIP cards with photo IDs.

— focus infrastructure spending on roads and transit.

— restore “one law for all” to crack down on illegal smoke shacks and protect residents caught up in aboriginal occupations.

— uphold right to secret ballot in certification votes and introduce “paycheque protection” so union members aren’t forced to pay fees towards political causes they don’t support.

Tory sources tell The Canadian Press that the platform will include a pledge to give all 444 Ontario municipalities a piece of provincial gas tax revenues. Only 89 currently receive a share of the cash.

Hudak has spent the last few weeks rolling out several election promises, including forcing provincial convicts to do manual labour, removing the provincial portion of the harmonized sales tax from home heating and hydro bills, and cutting government waste by abolishing the province’s 14 Local Health Integration Networks and reviewing all provincial agencies, boards and commissions.

Speaking at the convention, Hudak said voters are sick of the spending scandals, higher taxes and bloated public service that have become McGuinty’s legacy in Ontario.

But there’s “no point” getting mad at the premier, he said.

It’s like being mad a raccoon who knocks over a trash can that isn’t secured, Hudak said. They can’t help it — it’s simply in their nature.

The same goes for McGuinty, who will hike taxes again if voters give him another chance, Hudak warned.

“He can’t help it. It’s what he does,” said Hudak. “And he’ll do it again. Unless we take precautions.”