Playing platform politics

With the recent release of the 2011 Ontario election platforms, the pace of the provincial party politics game has increased and the dynamics of each candidate’s campaign strategy are beginning to show through. Dalton McGuinty is running for his third-straight term as Liberal premier of Ontario while new leaders Tim Hudak (Progressive Conservative) and Andrea Horwath (New Democratic party) hope for rookie success in the polls.

Presently, the public opinion polls show the McGuinty Liberals gaining momentum. The latest Harris-Decima poll ranks McGuinty in the lead by eleven points followed closely by Hudak and Horwath, with Green party leader Mike Schreiner placing last. McGuinty established at least some of his support in Ontario from his handling of the recession through stimulus spending and long-term development strategies in his last terms.

The opposition parties’ campaigns seem to be focused on the spending by the Liberal government. This is at least somewhat misguided as it fails to consider what the government has actually accomplished with those funds.
The Liberal campaign strategy focuses on policies that create jobs in clean energy and increase accessibility of education. McGuinty also has been promising tax credits to balance out negative opinions of his harmonized sales tax (HST) and offering businesses an affirmative action plan to cover $10,000 of expenses from hiring and training of immigrant workers.

Hudak’s promise to protect the taxpayer sets the tone of his campaign with attempts to foster frustration with the Liberal “tax man.” Reception of the HST was poor because it primarily saved money for business owners by removing the provincial sales tax (PST) on capital while raising the cost of living for the average Canadian through heat and hydro tax. The PC platform argues for a need to remove the HST and to lower the corporate income tax from 11.5 per cent to ten per cent to make Ontario more competitive and stimulate job growth.

Hudak’s campaign is centred on generating popular ideas about reducing revenues but is saying little about where he would cut services.

NDP leader Horwath is also focusing her campaign against the “tax man” with promises to cut the HST on heat, hydro and, eventually, gas. She also has plans to create jobs by giving employers a 20 per cent tax credit for one year of wages from new hires. Although she may be at a disadvantage in the polls because of memories from the NDP’s Bob Rae years, it is possible the “Orange Crush” from Jack Layton’s federal success may influence voting behavior in ridings that are NDP federally but not provincially.

We can see that both Hudak and Horwath are targeting these ridings in attempts to sway support from their federal “brand.” The power of the Conservatives federally is expected to give them ability to split some voters from the center of the political spectrum. The NDP is reaching out to Ontario’s rural and northern communities. Northern Ontario’s Ring of Fire region is highlighted as a priority area for all parties in light of the new development of chromite (found in stainless steel) mines. Resource revenue retention strategies are being presented as well as infrastructure development plans to allow these mines to benefit Ontario’s taxpayers first.

The handling of the recession by McGuinty’s government cost billions and Ontario is not expected to have a balanced budget again until 2017. The revenue produced from chromite mining would be helpful along the way as government will be able to avoid cutting social programs to maintain other areas of spending.

This is where I believe the root issue of Ontario’s provincial election is: how can our officials lower the costs of living for the voters without losing revenue or sacrificing things that would only make Ontarians’ difficulties worse.
From this perspective Hudak’s proposals seem to suggest that he will need to go out of his way to make up for lost tax revenue, especially with the proposed drop in corporate tax rates. Horwath also talks of large tax breaks and expenditures that leave out much information about revenue generation. Even McGuinty, although he will maintain revenue from present tax rates if re-elected, is promising expenditures that will strain the government’s money supply.
The “tax man” campaign against McGuinty has left a bad taste in my mouth. While the Liberal party has a lot of work to do before they have stabilized Ontario’s economy, their policies are focused on long-term success. The NDP and PC on the other hand, come across as sensationalist and are trying too hard to influence a negative emotional response from the public towards McGuinty with insistence that lower taxes will solve everyone’s problems. When the emotions of the voters are used as a tool, it results in promises that were exaggerated for effect and then never properly fulfilled.