Compare Ontario party platforms and you'll find huge differences

Photo: Jamie McCaffrey

There is only one party in Ontario that has put its complete electoral program on its website for all to see, including detailed costing, and that is Andrea Horwath’s New Democratic Party (NDP).

Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives (PC) had a platform under deposed leader Patrick Brown, but they scrapped it. Now all they have is rhetoric and a few vague promises

The Liberals have been in power, under two premiers, for 15 years, so one would expect them to have a record of accomplishment to boast about. No such luck. The Liberal website is gnomically silent on almost everything Liberal governments did over the past decade and a half. 

Recently, Premier Kathleen Wynne’s party made some significant commitments in its provincial budget. Most notably, the Liberals committed to universal childcare for families with children over the age of two and a half. Amazingly, the Ontario Liberal party website is silent on that pledge, which would be the first new universal social program we have seen for decades in Canada.

The only achievements or promises the Liberal site promotes are the $15 an hour minimum wage and the free-prescriptions-drugs-for-those-under-25 program that came into effect in January of this year.

Ford plays peek-a-boo; Wynne smiles and avoids details

Now, a party’s website is not its entire campaign. Still, Liberals and Conservatives alike seem to have decided that voters who seek information directly from them, online, will be content with extremely scant gruel. Both parties’ websites are focused on fundraising, promoting personalities and slogans, not on policy.

That approach might make sense for the PCers, but seems odd for the Liberals.

At this stage in the game, the Ford party appears to have decided not to put forward anything resembling a comprehensive plan. We may never get what the British call a manifesto, and we refer to, quaintly, as a platform from the Ontario Conservatives.

PCers obviously believe their path to victory is not through any kind of coherent vision for the province. They think it will be enough to mercilessly attack a (notionally) highly unpopular Wynne.

When you open the PC site, you get a photo of Ford greeting a rapturous crowd of notionally ordinary folks, with the words: “I have a message for Kathleen Wynne: The party with the taxpayers’ money is over.”

Instead of a platform, the Conservatives have a series of brief statements: “tax dollars will be respected,” “clean up the hydro mess”, “stop the carbon tax” -- and, yes, “no tax for minimum wage earners.” We would not want voters thinking Ford does not have a heart, after all. Taking minimum wage earners off the tax rolls, but not increasing the wage, will mean they take home less money than if the wage were to rise to $15 per hour. That, it seems, is just a messy detail, and Ford’s Conservatives are not about details.

Just about the only policies Ford has enunciated so far are about taxes, the most recent being a pledge, you guessed, to cut the corporate income tax. All those tax cuts will create a great big hole in the budget and Ford says nothing about how he will fill it, aside from promising to run the government the way he runs his labelling business.

There is a lot the Liberals could talk about via their website: their successes in education and health care, the positive labour relations in Ontario’s public sector, the meaning of a minimum wage hike, and the fact that universal childcare from the age of two and a half, coming on the heels of public pre-kindergarten, could be a game changer for Ontario families. It is, frankly, a mystery that the Liberals choose not to talk about their record and pledges. Instead the party’s website provides vapid photos and announcements of candidate nominations.

Maybe it is all part of a grand plan. Or maybe it is just political maladresse, if not outright incompetence.

NDP might have found its mojo with a robust platform

With the launch of their platform, the New Democrats seem to have found a theme, a tone and the substance on which they will fight the coming battle. Their slogan is “change for the better”, which is fairly bland but tells voters that if they want change, but find Ford’s PC party to be scary, there is a sane alternative.

The NDP platform focuses, as do the Liberals, on expanding the welfare state. New Democrats promise universal pharmacare now in contrast to the Liberals’ incrementalist approach.

They also tackle childcare, but here they do not seem to have improved on the Liberals’ offering.

While Wynne, heeding a report by respected economist and childcare advocate Gordon Cleveland, pledges to provide childcare on a universal basis from the toddler stage and up, Horwath would start publicly supported childcare from birth, but make it free only on a means-tested basis.

Childcare advocates are befuddled at the NDP’s approach, which seems mostly designed to be different, not better than the Liberal policy.

There was a time when the NDP and its predecessor, the CCF, were fierce advocates of universality. The idea was that the whole of society would not support a public service if only part of society were to get it. And, after all, we have universal health care and free public education. Why should childcare be different?

On other fronts, the New Democrats are on firmer footing. 

They say they will deal with student debt by converting student loans to grants. They will create 15,000 more long-term care beds for seniors and re-establish a minimum standard of care in institutions that house and care for seniors.  They also pledge to increase funding for home care, to support midwifery, provide complete coverage for take-home cancer medications, and create 35 new community health centres over an eight-year period.

The NDP makes a series of education related promises, including working with school boards to institute a moratorium on school closures and ending standardized tests. The party does not propose to end waste and duplication by abolishing the archaic denominational system; but neither does anyone else, save the Greens.

Revenue sharing would be revolutionary for First Nations

For First Nations, the most significant of a series of NDP pledges, which cover a broad spectrum, is for sharing resource revenues with Indigenous groups and communities. The party says, clearly, that it will transfer the province’s share of mining royalties to First Nations, which is truly a revolutionary idea.  In this area, the Liberals could have acted long ago but chose not to.

The NDP candidly says it will pay for its many and ambitious plans by raising taxes on high income individuals and corporations. If Justin Trudeau could do it federally -- why not provincially? And, interestingly, the NDP’s rather detailed costing reveals a far lower deficit than that projected by the Wynne government.

In the end, however, there is not a huge gulf, ideologically, between the Horwath New Democrats and Wynne Liberals. The days when the Left could chant “Liberal, Tory, same old story” are gone. What used to be the moderate and responsible Right is now the extremist outlier on the Canadian political landscape.

For voters, this NDP-Liberal affinity creates a conundrum. Many among the chattering class are already postulating that voting for the New Democrats will only help elect the dreaded Ford. Thousands of Ontarians, however, who do not define themselves ideologically, seem to have decided, for better or worse, that it is time for a change. The multiple Liberal scandals and bad choices (privatize hydro anyone?) have fuelled that change mood.

The NDP’s proposition is that it, not the Doug Ford PC party, offers not only change, but change that makes sense. The party says it can provide compassionate, evidence-based government, without the Liberal smugness, sense of entitlement and corruption.

Will that message get through the fog of polls and punditry to the voters? The election is still about two months away. There is lots of time for public opinion to churn and churn again.

Photo: Jamie McCaffrey

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