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Ontario Liberals promise to use unspent dollars towards lowering debt

Last Updated May 26, 2018 at 5:26 pm EST

Ontario Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne speaks at a home in Toronto on May 26, 2016. CITYNEWS

The Ontario Liberals promised new legislation on Saturday that would reduce the province’s debt, saying they were presenting the only realistic financial plan between the three major parties.

Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne said the legislation would require 100 per cent of unspent dollars to go towards reducing debt when the province beats its own fiscal projections – noting the party has done so every year for the past four years.

The governing Liberals announced the legislation as they launched their campaign platform, much of which was similar to the government’s latest budget that was released in March.

The promise comes amid rhetoric from Wynne that writes off the New Democrats and Tories as having economically unfeasible plans for government. She took particular aim at the NDP, which both the Liberals and Tories have labelled as radical.

“We’ve got some really good momentum in terms of our economy, so we do not need … to have policies from a government in Ontario that are going to slow that down,” Wynne said Saturday during a campaign event in Toronto. “That’s what I’m worried about when I look at what the NDP are suggesting.”

The Liberals, who are running far back in third place according to multiple polls, have also taken aim at the Tories for using consumer-friendly promises to distract voters from their lack of a platform.

Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford issued a statement this weekend saying he would set the minimum price of beer at $1 plus deposit if elected.

The Liberals said the policy is akin to Ford’s bid to sell beer at corner stores, which the Tories introduced a day after allegations were raised about the party potentially benefiting from stolen data from a toll highway.

“Ford’s Conservative team is promising cheap beer instead of explaining his expensive promises,” read a Saturday release from the Liberals.
“At this rate, he’ll show up for Sunday’s leaders’ debate with a carton of smokes and a round of shooters for voters.”

In response to that attack, PC party spokeswoman Melissa Lantsman said Ford trusts consumers and retailers to make responsible choices about the sale of alcohol.

“It’s time for the government to stop gouging the people,” Lantsman said in an email. “Change is coming and help is on the way.”

The Liberals have also taken their fair share of criticism from opponents, who have frequently attacked the party over rising debt during their time in power.
In March, Ontario’s publicly held debt for 2018-19 was projected at $337.4 billion – up from $285.4 billion in 2014-15.

The Liberals originally planned to stay in the black this year, but a host of costly promises in pharmacare and child care means they now plan to run deficits of more than $6 billion for multiple years to come.

However, Wynne noted Ford has yet to release a fiscal plan, and alleged that NDP leader Andrea Horwath’s plan is full of errors.

On Saturday, Wynne faced criticism from Horwath, who accused the Liberal leader of mud-slinging during the campaign.

“Kathleen Wynne basically said if Doug Ford goes low, she’s going to go lower,” Horwath said during a campaign event in Brampton. “I don’t think that’s leadership.”

“I don’t think that people want to watch mud be slung by the parties.”

At a campaign event in Toronto, Wynne said she is just calling it like she sees it, and that party leaders need to be prepared to face scrutiny.

“I’m not going to go low or high, I’m going to go right down the centre and talk about what’s actually happening,” Wynne said.

“I can tell you from lived experience: being taken seriously means that you’ve got to answer tough questions.”

The three major parties are now preparing for the final leaders debate on Sunday, and have less than two weeks to go until voting day on June 7.

Wynne acknowledged her party is clearly in third place at this point in the campaign, but said there’s still time for her to bounce back.

“It’s a big hill, I know we have a big hill,” Wynne said. “But we’ve been in tough places before, so what I’m going to do is fight our way back.”