RICHMOND HILL, Ont. - Tim Hudak struck notes of compassionate conservatism Tuesday as he tried to smooth over the hard edges of his pledge to cut public sector jobs, saying those with disabilities and other disadvantaged groups would see their lives improve under a Tory government.
Hudak said his million jobs plan would "lend a hand" by creating work for underemployed people he said have been "forgotten" under successive Liberal governments.
"The disadvantaged. Those with disabilities. Young Canadians and new Canadians," he said at a campaign stop in Richmond Hill, north of Toronto.
"They're falling behind. And I stand with them."
Such groups are among those the Liberals insist stand to lose the most under a Hudak government, warning that his pledge to slash 100,000 jobs from public sector jobs would shatter the gentler side of government services, such as special needs programs.
But Hudak said the cuts, which include attrition and contracting out in the aim of balancing the books by 2016, would target the "fat layer of middle management."
"We're going to protect the front lines by laying off administration," Hudak said, claiming the cull would free up resources for more educational assistants and social workers.
Though Hudak insists special-ed classes won't be affected by the education system's share of the job cuts, the Tory platform does call for increasing class sizes, which could affect the number of public school teachers, and reducing the number of early childhood educators in full-day kindergarten classes.
Campaigning in Kingston, Premier Kathleen Wynne sent a blunt message to NDP supporters, telling them that voting for her Liberals is the only way to stop a Hudak government she said would be "dangerous" for kids, drive Ontario back into recession and "slam the door on jobs" for young people.
At a rally later Tuesday, Hudak talked at length about how his platform of lower personal and business taxes, reduced hydro bills and his projected — though heavily contested — job growth would benefit the disabled.
"So many folks with disabilities that are home right now, they can work, they want to work, they want to give back to this province of Ontario. And we're going to pave the way to give them great jobs and hope and opportunity," he said in Oakville.
With several polls indicating Thursday's vote will be neck and neck between his party and the Liberals, Hudak's attempt at deflecting his rivals' pointed criticism appears aimed at thwarting Wynne's efforts to peel from the NDP left-leaning voters concerned about the Tory cuts.
Hudak said that as the clock ticks down to election day, he is the only leader not slinging mud or sounding ominous tones. Meanwhile, he said, the Liberals and New Democrats are warning that a Tory government would bring nothing but doom and gloom, beginning with its first day in office.
"The sun is still going to shine, cows will still give milk, the sky is still going to be blue. I know they're going really across the line to try to distort things," he said.
"But you want to know what's going to be different come June 13 under the PC government? You're going to have hope again."
Hudak closed out the day with a small rally in London.
— With files from Colin Perkel.