POLITICS

Liberals release northern and rural platforms with little fanfare

09/09/2011 01:03 EDT | Updated 11/09/2011 05:12 EST
NEWMARKET, Ont. - Ontario's Liberals released their northern and rural platforms with little fanfare Friday as their leader campaigned in the Toronto area one day after NDP Leader Andrea Horwath launched hers with a multi-city northern tour.

The newly released planks of the Liberal platform tout help for the north, but Premier Dalton McGuinty was not in the north to announce it, nor did he mention it during his morning event.

McGuinty spent the first half of the day in Newmarket, north of Toronto, touring a solar panel factory. For the second day in a row, he touted the Liberals' plan for green jobs and suggested workers in the green energy sector — such as those at the Flextronics factory — could lose their jobs if the Progressive Conservatives form a government.

Horwath, who just returned from the a multi-city tour of the north to roll out her northern platform, said Friday in Brampton, Ont., that northerners will notice McGuinty's absence.

"I'm sure that northerners are a little bit disappointed that ... Mr. McGuinty was not up north to unveil his platform," she said. "Certainly I was there yesterday."

The Liberals say McGuinty will be heading to a number of communities in the north during the campaign. Party officials say the platforms were developed with help from members in northern and rural communities, and so they make the announcements in their ridings.

"From my perspective there has been no government that has put a stronger focus on northern Ontario than the Dalton McGuinty governmet, and I will stand and shout that from the rooftops," said Liberal Michael Gravelle, who represents the Thunder Bay-Superior North riding.

The northern platform includes making the Northern Industrial Electricity Rate Program permanent, increasing the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund to $110 million and opening at least eight new mines in the next 10 years.

The rural plank of the platform includes increasing support for agri-food businesses, making the Eastern Ontario Development Fund permanent, creating a Southwestern Ontario Economic Development Fund and expanding a special major in food processing in more Ontario high schools.

The platform was released after McGuinty took questions from reporters, so he was not available to comment on it.

The Liberals are attacking the Progressive Conservatives' record on the north as "disastrous."

The Tories, who launched their northern platform in Thunder Bay July 14, are promising to repeal the Far North Act, which they say "effectively turns the North into a museum by banning development and killing potential jobs." They are also pledging to allow local municipalities and First Nations to keep the revenue from the mining tax for any new mines that are developed.

Conservative candidate and former North Bay mayor Vic Fedeli said a joke among northern politicians rang true.

"If you can't even come up here to present your plan, that's shocking," he said.

"The northern mayors ... we always made jokes that politicians thought northern Ontario was anything north of Steeles," Fedeli said, referring to Toronto's northern street.

If she wins the Oct. 6 election, Horwath is promising to create a northern Ontario committee at the legislature, made up solely of members from the north, which would investigate issues such as forestry, energy and mining and make recommendations to the government. All legislation affecting northern Ontario would be referred to that committee for review, which will ensure northerners have a say.

The NDP also wants to make industrial hydro rates more competitive by expanding a program that allows companies to shift operations to lower peak times, reducing hydro costs. Smaller mines and sawmills would also be allowed to join the program.

They would also spend $300 million over three years to extend a northern Ontario industrial electricity rate program, set to expire in 2013, all in exchange for job guarantees.