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Doug Ford rallies Ontario Tory caucus for first meeting

Last Updated Jun 19, 2018 at 2:37 pm EDT

Premier-designate Doug Ford addresses the first meeting of the newly-elected Ontario PC Caucus at Queen's Park in Toronto on Tuesday, June 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tijana Martin

Doug Ford says teachers and nurses are exempt from the public sector hiring freeze he has ordered as part of his efforts to curb government spending.

The Progressive Conservatives had previously said the hiring freeze did not apply to essential frontline staff such as police, corrections and fire services, as well as lateral moves within the public service.

But some, including the NDP, had raised concerns about which jobs would be considered essential and how that could potentially impact services such as health care and education.

Ontario’s premier-designate made the comments Tuesday as his caucus was meeting for the first time since winning a majority in this month’s election.

Earlier in the day, he emphasized campaign promises to put money back in taxpayers’ pockets as he addressed his slate of legislators.

In a short speech to an enthusiastic Tory crowd, Ford recapped some of steps taken by his transition team, including last week’s announcement that he would scrap Ontario’s cap-and-trade system.

“It is absolutely the worst tax anyone could put on the workers and families of Ontario. I’ll tell ya, that’s done,” he said.

Ford also spoke about the recent rift between Canada and the United States when it comes to NAFTA.

“I gave assurances to the federal government that we aren’t going to sit on the sidelines and watch this happen. We will partner with them, stand shoulder to shoulder,” he said.

He did not, however, mention the hiring freeze in his speech, or the limits on discretionary spending ordered at the same time. Those include restrictions on out-of-province travel and a ban on providing food and drink for staff meetings.

“No more lunches, no more free lunches, no more hockey tickets,” he said. “The party’s over with the taxpayers’ money.”

When asked by reporters when the line by line audit that he promised during his campaign would get underway, he said “as soon as we can” and that more details will be announced over the next week.

A spokeswoman for Ford said he had bought pizza for the caucus Tuesday out of his own pocket.