Ontario Tories draw fire with job cuts plan
By Diana Mehta, The Canadian Press
TORONTO - The leader of Ontario's Progressive Conservative party took a "big gamble" when he announced he would eliminate 100,000 public sector jobs if he wins the June 12 election, some political observers said Friday.
Tim Hudak's tough love proposal — which is part of the Tories' larger goal of creating one million jobs in Ontario over eight years — drew swift condemnation from his opponents and raised eyebrows among some analysts, who said the move could backfire.
"I think it might turn out to be more controversial than he thinks it is," said Luc Turgeon, a political science professor at the University of Ottawa.
"Some people might say if you're going to create a million jobs and you're going to cut 100,000, where does it leave us? I think it might scare a lot of people."
Hudak could be making a calculated move by discounting the votes of public service employees unlikely to vote for his party anyway while trying to draw the votes of Ontarians in the private sector, said Turgeon.
But the timing of the strategy could cause it to go awry.
"The Conservative party as the official opposition should be in a very good position to win this election," Turgeon said. "It's very dangerous what he's doing now, especially so early on in the campaign because rather than the spotlight being on the Liberals and their scandals...he's putting all the emphasis for next week on him and that controversial proposal."
Hudak was adamant his plan would spur job creation in the private sector — though just how that would come about wasn't immediately detailed.
"It's time for some straight talk," Hudak said in Barrie, Ont. "I take no joy in this, but it has to be done if we want job creators to put more people on the payroll in our province."
The plan would amount to a 10 per cent reduction in the public sector which would save the province $2 billion a year, while protecting "vital" services such as those carried out by nurses, doctors and police.
The Tory proposal could work in theory over the long term, explained Christopher Worswick, an economics professor at Carleton University.
"If a budget's in balance then that would mean that the government would need to collect less tax, so they could cut taxes and that would mean more money in individual's budgets," he said.
"We would expect people would spend most of that money in goods and services and that would lead to greater demand in the private sector for workers."
With Ontario's deficit, however, Worswick said a Tory government might decide to focus on balancing the books before lowering taxes.
"I think the bigger issue is what are the services that are being provided by these 100,000 people," Worswick said. "Are these services that we need and should be provided by government? If they are, then it's a mistake to do this."
Hudak's political opponents wasted no time ripping his proposal apart.
"Today we learned that Tim Hudak's jobs plan is to turn paycheques into pink slips for 100,000 people," said Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne.
"That's 100,000 people no longer able to earn a living, no longer paying taxes and buying goods. It's 100,000 families who would lose a breadwinner."
New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath also slammed the Tory proposal, saying it would add further strain to the province's hard-hit workforce.
"How does it make sense, when you have an economy that is struggling, when you have a lot of families already out of work, to say you are going to throw a whole bunch more families out of work," she said.
Hudak defended his plan by saying it would reduce the size and cost of government, which he said is growing bigger than taxpayers can afford.
It's all part of his larger goal of eliminating the province's projected $12.5-billion deficit by 2016 — a year before the Liberals say they can balance the books.
"I'm not going to be the leader that promises you more and more spending," Hudak said. "There's no compassion in borrowing money on your credit card and handing it over to you. I'm actually promising less spending."
The Tory leader has already said that teachers will be targeted. He also vowed to eliminate agencies like the Ontario Power Authority, Local Health Integration Networks and the College of Trades.
Those steps would be coupled with a two-year wage freeze for everyone in the broader public sector including politicians, civil servants and anyone else paid by taxpayers.
The number of administrative jobs across government would also be reduced and Hudak would shrink the size of cabinet from 27 to 16 ministers.
The entire hardline pledge could be part of Hudak's attempt to distinguish himself early on in the election campaign, said Western University political science professor Cristine de Clercy.
"He's trying very hard to focus attention back on his party and this might be a good strategic tactic given that Kathleen Wynne has largely driven the media attention this past week," said de Clercy, noting that Hudak's plan was in line with his party's fiscal policy.
"The Progressive Conservatives might be a little worried that if they don't manage to get back in the public mind, they may end up being largely discounted by voters, who might otherwise be attracted to their message of fiscal restraint and economic rejuvenation."
— with files from Keith Leslie, Maria Babbage and Will Campbell.