KITCHENER, Ont. - Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak will announce Friday how he can eliminate Ontario's projected $12.5 billion deficit one year before the Liberals say they can balance the books.
Hudak was the third party leader to visit Kitchener since Wednesday, holding a town hall where he was asked when and how a Conservative government would stem the flow of red ink and get the province back to balance.
The PC leader joked he wanted the cameras turned off — the event was being live streamed — so he didn't scoop his campaign plan for Friday, but then said the deficit was "unfair" and it was "morally wrong" to burden the next generation with debt.
"The other two parties say you can't reduce spending, it's impossible ... and I could not disagree more," Hudak told the crowd. "I think balancing the budget is the most important thing we could do."
Hudak said he could balance the books "before" 2017-18, the year the Liberals say they would be able to eliminate the deficit.
Hudak said he'd start by imposing a two-year wage freeze on everyone in the broader public sector — politicians as well as civil servants, nurses, teachers and anyone else paid by taxpayers.
"That's saves you $2 billion right there, and gives you time to reduce the overall size and cost of government," he said.
Hudak also vowed a PC government would not raise any taxes, and said the two other parties could be expected to take that path if they are elected June 12.
Earlier Thursday, Hudak took the first step to reveal how he plans to create one million jobs over eight years, saying he'd start with getting more young people into apprenticeships for the skilled trades.
Allowing more apprentices so young people can get good-paying jobs as plumbers, welders or electricians and help address a labour shortage in the skilled trades makes good sense, he said.
"They have this old rule that dates back to the 1970s that says for every single apprentice in many trades you have to have four or five journeymen, so they limit the number of opportunities," Hudak told construction workers at a new housing project.
"Allow each journeyman to mentor and train an apprentice, one each, and that'll help create 200,000 positions."
A Conservative government would make trades training a community college course and would abolish the College of Trades set up by the Liberals as a self-regulating body, which Hudak called a "needless bureaucracy."
The Tories have always opposed the College of Trades, which was created just over a year ago, because workers in applicable trades are required to pay $120 plus tax every year to be licensed to work, up from the old fee of $20 a year.
Premier Kathleen Wynne said "there's absolutely no evidence" Hudak's plan to change the apprentice ratios would create jobs, and warned he will cost the province jobs by slashing government spending and ending grants to corporations.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath defended the relatively new College of Trades.
"You don't cut something off at its legs before it's even able to walk," she said at a campaign stop in Niagara Falls.
A report released Thursday by the Human Resources Professionals Association backed Hudak's position on apprenticeship ratios.
"Ontario is facing a skilled trades shortage that is costing the province $24 billion annually and, paradoxically, it is occurring at a time when youth unemployment is hovering around 17 per cent," said association CEO Bill Greenhalgh.
Hudak also lashed out at the Liberals and New Democrats for attacking his proposals, and each other, and said he planned to keep delivering a positive message.
"The Liberals and the NDP have spent the first week of this campaign on the attack, pointing the finger at somebody else each and every day," said Hudak. "I have a positive vision to get people back to work, balancing the budget, getting hydro rates under control."
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