TORONTO - Promises to create hundreds of thousands of jobs designed to lure Ontario voters dominated Thursday's election campaign as party leaders heckled one another's employment proposals and what it would mean for the province.
Both the Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats pushed job-creation plans as the Liberals and federal government traded barbs over support for the province.
Tory Leader Tim Hudak said getting more young people into skilled-trade apprenticeships would go a long way toward fulfilling his pledge of one million new jobs over eight years.
Currently, Hudak said, decades-old rules that require four or five journeyman for each apprentice in many trades limits apprenticeship opportunities.
"Allow each journeyman to mentor and train an apprentice, one each, and that'll help create 200,000 positions," Hudak said.
"It won't cost you a penny. One simple cabinet meeting, one stroke of the pen, and it's done."
The College of Trades the Liberals set up as a self-regulating body is little more than "a tax grab" to fund a "needless new bureaucracy" and would be abolished under a Conservative government, Hudak said.
Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne said "absolutely no evidence" exists that Hudak's plan would create jobs, and warned the Tories would in fact cost jobs by slashing government spending and ending grants to corporations.
"The cornerstone of Tim Hudak's jobs plan is actually to cut jobs," Wynne said. "The proposals we're putting forward are about creating jobs."
The Liberals' jobs strategy turns heavily on spending billions on transit and infrastructure and on grants to corporations.
New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath, pushing her plan to create 170,000 "good-paying jobs," argued Hudak is bent on creating an Alabama-style economy in Ontario.
"Tim Hudak's plan in Ontario is to drive down wages," Horwath said.
Instead, she said, an NDP government would bring in a tax credit to compensate employers for hiring new staff.
The two-year plan would cost taxpayers $500 million and cover 10 per cent of a new employee's first-year pay to a maximum of $5,000 per worker and $100,000 per company, Horwath said, adding the cash would not go to low-skilled positions or companies that end employment after the year is up.
Funding would come from efficiencies in a government spending but Horwath didn't offer any specifics.
The Liberals were quick to denounce the NDP strategy as a "job-killing tax credit" that has failed time and again and that U.S. President Barack Obama had tried and rejected it.
Ontario — particularly its manufacturing sector — has been hard hit in recent years by plant closures.
In Ottawa, Wynne accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper of ignoring Ontario's struggling economy and snubbing her proposal for an Ontario retirement savings plan.
The Tories blamed Wynne personally for 300,000 workers losing their jobs, and said she was trying to deflect attention from her "abysmal" record by taking shots at Harper.
In the Commons, Treasury Board president Tony Clement — a former provincial cabinet colleague of Hudak's — slagged Wynne's Liberals for raising taxes and spending that would ruin the provincial and Canadian economies.
In an unusual move for a federal cabinet minister, Clement urged Ontario voters to cast ballots for the Tories come June 12.
— With files from Maria Babbage, Keith Leslie and Will Campbell
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