BARRIE, Ont. - Ontario's Opposition Leader Tim Hudak's vow Friday to wipe out 100,000 public sector jobs if he wins the June 12 election earned immediate condemnation from his political opponents and union leaders.
The public sector job cuts are a key part of the Progressive Conservative leader's plan to eliminate the $12.5-billion deficit by 2016 — a year ahead of the Liberals' schedule.
It's the fastest way to restore business confidence and generate new investment and new jobs, said Hudak, who calls job creation "the only issue" in this election.
"If I have to trade off 100,000 jobs in the bureaucracy for one million new jobs in the private sector creating wealth, that's a tradeoff I would do any second," he told a town hall meeting in Barrie.
"It's not easy, I take no joy in this, but it has to be done if we want job creators to put more people on the payroll in our province."
Hudak said he can make a 10 per cent cut in the size of the public sector without affecting "vital" services performed by nurses, doctors and police, and save $2 billion a year.
He'd also make sure new government hires don't get the "gold plated pensions" current civil servants enjoy "that aren't seen anywhere outside of government."
Campaigning in Belleville, Premier Kathleen Wynne warned voters that Hudak's plan "would turn paycheques into pink slips" and force him to slash government programs that people need.
"Tim Hudak either doesn't understand the numbers ... or he doesn't care about the services that we deliver in this province," she said at an earlier stop in Kingston.
The New Democrats said it doesn't make sense to throw more people out of work when so many are already struggling to find a job.
"The type of ideas Hudak was floating were first seen in Alabama a half century ago," NDP Leader Andrea Horwath told public sector union delegates in Toronto.
The Ontario Public Service Employees Union said Hudak's culling of jobs would be "five times worse" than cuts brought in by former PC premier Mike Harris nearly 20 years ago.
Union president Warren (Smokey) Thomas called for government workers to vote strategically in tight races, even if that means going against the union's traditional ally — the NDP.
"Hudak does not represent anything good for Ontario. So I would say to people, if you're in a riding where it's close vote for anybody just beat a Tory," said Thomas.
"If Hudak wins a majority, it's your job that's at stake."
The Canadian Union of Public Employees said the PC "unemployment plan" would affect child-care workers, people providing direct support to the elderly and people with disabilities, hospital cleaners, school support staff and people who provide special education.
"That's why every family in Ontario, every community in Ontario will be hard hit," said CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn.
By promising to protect only health-care funding as he balances the books, Hudak becomes the first Ontario leader to say he'd cut the education budget.
"Will it mean fewer teachers? It does," Hudak said answering his own question. "We'll hire more nurses, we'll keep our police officers, but it will mean fewer teachers in our system."
Hudak said it's too late to kill full-day kindergarten, the $1.5-billion-a-year program that will be fully implemented across Ontario this fall, but he would change it so there's no longer both a teacher and an early childhood educator in the class at the same time.
Government is growing bigger than taxpayers can afford, said Hudak, as he vowed to eliminate agencies such as the Ontario Power Authority, Local Health Integration Networks and the College of Trades. The Tories would also kill programs that "don't offer good value" such as Drive Clean, the unpopular vehicle emissions tests, and even a home renovation tax credit for seniors.
Hudak would reduce the number of administrative jobs across government and also shrink the size of cabinet from 27 to 16 ministers and, unlike the Liberals and New Democrats, insisted he won't be promising any new spending programs to lure voters.
"I'm not going to be the leader that promises you more and more spending," he said. "There's no compassion in borrowing money on your credit card and handing it over to you. I'm actually promising less spending."
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