Pledging to tear up contracts signed by a previous government as Ontario’s New Democrats did Saturday is a staple of election campaigns but experience teaches that keeping the promise can prove tricky.
In pushing her Buy Ontario platform, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath promised to scrap a $120-million rail-car refurbishment deal the Liberal government inked with a company in Quebec in an effort to keep the jobs in Ontario.
Horwath made the pledge despite admitting she didn’t know what it might cost should she ever get the chance to carry it out.
“We made a commitment when this contract was let that we would take this contract back, that we would made sure that these workers here got those jobs,” Horwath said during a campaign stop at a production plant in North Bay, Ont.
“The last information we had was that the contract had not yet been finalized and so that’s the information that we’re acting on.”
Another of the Liberals’ deals has come under fire in the lead-up to the Oct. 6 election.
Earlier in the campaign, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak promised to tear up a $7-billion deal Premier Dalton McGuinty’s government has inked with Korean giant Samsung.
Though the Liberals have cried foul over their rivals’ attacks on the deals, they’re no strangers to such election tough talk.
During his successful 2003 election campaign, McGuinty promised to roll back tolls on Highway 407 and freeze development on an area north of Toronto.
It didn’t take long before he found himself back-pedalling after discovering the promises had run smack into binding contracts.
McGuinty was forced to admit his hands were essentially tied on the development promise and his government found itself locked in a series of costly and ultimately losing legal battles with the highway’s private operators.
The premier was forced to endure years of taunts as a promise-breaker.
Perhaps mindful of the bitter experience, the Liberals were quick to warn the NDP about her pledge to dismantle the rail-car deal if the third-place New Democrats form a government.
“The reality is it would be tied up in court for years and that’s to no one’s benefit,” said Rick Bartolucci, who represented a nearby riding.
“It would be very, very expensive and would put the (workers) in limbo.”
Quebec-based CAD Railway Industries won the five-year deal to refurbish 127 GO Transit rail cars with a bid that was $2 million lower than one from Ontario Northland based in North Bay.
The Conservatives were more cautious in calling for the deal to be scrapped.
Former North Bay mayor Vic Fedeli, who is running for the Tories in the area, said the deal should be axed if provincial taxpayers stand to benefit and called on McGuinty to say immediately what penalties might be incurred.
In defending the agreement, Bartolucci said the province had invested $10 million to have Ontario Northland refurbish trains for the Polar Bear Express, which should make up for the lost GO Transit contract.
The union representing plant workers has said the new deal simply isn’t enough.
Ontario Northland has indicated it will likely absorb some of the job losses through early retirement, but Horwath said more than 100 jobs are at risk.
The NDP’s Buy Ontario policy is a key plank in its job creation platform, but critics have called it a protectionist strategy that would undermine the region’s labour market.