TORONTO - Ontario's New Democrats will raise the corporate tax rate and offer financial help to hydro users, family caregivers and students if they win the June 12 election, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Thursday as she released her campaign platform.
A "modest" increase in the corporate tax rate, from 11.5 to 12.5 per cent, is needed to pay for major infrastructure projects like public transit expansion, Horwath told reporters after a speech to supporters at the University of Toronto.
"The Liberals have been rolling back corporate taxes in a way that's left us with no options in terms of funding things like transit, so we need to make sure that money is there," she said.
Canadian companies have been sitting on "dead money" they've saved from previous tax breaks instead of investing in jobs and the economy, added Horwath.
Ontario's position as the top jurisdiction in North America for direct foreign investment would be jeopardized by the NDP tax hike, warned Liberal cabinet minister Brad Duguid.
"She'll be placing that at risk and jobs at risk by hiking corporate taxes," he said.
However, professor Henry Jacek of McMaster University in Hamilton said the impact of a small increase in the corporate tax rate is "over-hyped" by critics.
"There's really no evidence that investors are running away, or refusing to invest in Ontario, because of corporate tax rates, even if they are raised a bit," said Jacek.
Speaking at a rally on Thursday night, Premier Kathleen Wynne slammed Horwath's campaign plan as a "random, disparate group of ideas."
"But there are some good ones — the ones they took from us," Wynne said.
"The reality is there is absolutely no reason she shouldn't have supported our budget."
The NDP platform outlined a number of initiatives to "make life more affordable" for Ontarians, including implementing a $1,275 family caregiver tax credit to help seniors live at home as long as possible, which would cost $230 million a year.
An NDP government would also freeze college and university tuitions, make student loans interest-free and forgive up to $20,000 a year of student debt for doctors who agree to work in under-serviced areas.
There would also be relief for hydro customers as the NDP promises to remove the provincial portion of the HST from hydro bills and repeal the debt retirement charge, saving the average household about $200 a year.
Horwath said patients discharged from hospital who need home care would get the service within five days, and said using more nurse practitioners would cut emergency room wait times in half.
She said an NDP government would instruct the provincial regulator to implement a 15 per cent cut in auto insurance premiums, which Horwath said the Liberals promised in last year's budget but failed to deliver.
The New Democrats would hire 1,000 more gym and health teachers over their first term as government, added Horwath.
She said the NDP would focus on government waste as they move to eliminate Ontario's $12.5-billion deficit by 2017-18, the same year as the Liberals, but one year after the Tories say they could balance the books.
"We talked about getting rid of some of the waste we see in this province," Horwath said. "We've made some commitments around getting rid of some of the fat at the top and making sure that that's being reinvested in front line services. I believe there's much more savings to be found."
The NDP platform shares many ideas — such as a $29-billion transit fund - with the Liberals' budget tabled May 1, but Horwath offered no apologies Thursday for rejecting the government's fiscal plan, triggering an election.
She said the $1.1 billion the Liberals spent to save seats by cancelling two gas plants, the police investigation into the Ornge air ambulance service and the eHealth scandal are evidence enough that the minority government deserved to be defeated.
"It's a pretty simple reason," Horwath told reporters. "People deserve a better government. They deserve a government that respects their tax dollars."
But Jacek warned Horwath's claim that the Liberals can't be trusted to implement the ideas in their budget doesn't necessarily play with voters.
"It sounds too much like she just wants to, essentially, put her party in power," he said. "That's the basic motivation, and that she just wants to turf the Liberals."
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