Thomas Walkom: Rising Horwath means vulnerable Ford must produce his plan
When Ontario’s election campaign began earlier this month, it was enough for Tory leader Doug Ford to be the Anti-Wynne.
A good many Ontarians were sick of Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne and ready to support whichever party leader was best-positioned to deny her another term in government.
In those early days, that leader was Ford. His Progressive Conservatives formed the official opposition and, to many voters, represented the obvious alternative to the Liberals.
The fact Ford hadn’t cobbled together a coherent platform didn’t matter. Nor did his controversial history as a Toronto councillor.
His critics compared him to Donald Trump, but that didn’t matter either. He wasn’t Wynne and that was sufficient.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the June 7 election. The voters discovered in New Democratic Party leader Andrea Horwath another alternative to Wynne.
What’s more, to so-called progressive voters, Horwath seemed to offer the best of both worlds.
Her party’s platform, with its commitment to pharmacare, child care and denticare was similar to that of Wynne. But Horwath herself was not a member of the discredited governing party.
In effect, she offered voters Liberalism without the Liberals.
For Horwath this is good news. At a meeting earlier this week with the Star’s editorial board and others, she was clearly chuffed that people are paying attention to the NDP — even though the increased scrutiny has revealed a $1.4 billion arithmetical mistake in its platform.
But for Ford it means the easy ride is over. He now has to specify exactly what he would do if elected and explain why his solutions are superior to Horwath’s.
He has given some idea of where he wants to go. Like the Liberals and NDP, he is not hung up on balancing the budget and says he would run a deficit in his first year of governing.
His broad economic plans, such as they are, reflect the standard Conservative trinity of tax cuts, spending cuts and deregulation.
He has fleshed out his proposed tax moves, which include a 1.5 percentage point cut in the corporate tax rate, a marginal cut in the small business tax rate, a cut in the personal income tax rate for middle and upper income earners and a reduction in gasoline taxes.
But he has not revealed how he plans to cut $5.6 billion in government spending without affecting jobs.
Nor has he revealed what regulations he would scrap in order to encourage more economic growth.
He says he would kill the Liberal cap and trade system, which is aimed at reducing carbon emissions. But he has not offered any other solution to the problems posed by climate change.
His social policy suggestions are bareboned. He would institute a tax rebate for parents to partially offset child care costs. And he would subsidize dental care for poor seniors.
But in neither case are any details provided.
He is more specific in health care, promising 30,000 new long-term care beds over the next 10 years, as well as $1.9 billion over the decade for mental health.
But it’s not clear where the money needed to accomplish all of this will come from.
Like the Liberals before him, Ford promises to develop the so-called Ring of Fire mining region near James Bay. But like the Liberals before him, he doesn’t say how.
Now that public opinion polls show Horwath is a real contender for the premier’s job, more attention will be paid to the NDP platform. Voters can legitimately ask whether Horwath’s child care plans, for example, make sense.
They can also legitimately ask whether it makes sense to entrust power to a party that makes a $1.4-billion mistake when calculating government finances.
But at least Horwath’s NDP has a platform that can be scrutinized. Ford’s PCs do not. A few weeks ago, that didn’t matter. Now it does.
Thomas Walkom is a Toronto-based columnist covering politics. Follow him on Twitter: @tomwalkom