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NDP unveil platform for June election

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TORONTO—Ontario's New Democrats are promising free child-care for families earning less than $40,000 and a boost to hospital budgets if elected this spring, but say they would run multi-year deficits to pay for their plan.

The promises are part of the party's election platform, called “Change for the Better,” released yesterday—a month-and-a-half ahead of the June vote.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath says the fully-costed platform gives voters the option to chose her party over the governing Liberals and opposition Progressive Conservatives.

“For too long, the people of Ontario have been forced to settle for less than what we know is possible,” Horwath said in a speech yesterday.

“We've been told to switch back and forth, from the Liberals to the Conservatives and back again," she noted. ”As though the only choice is between bad and worse.

“And look where it's gotten us.”

The NDP child-care plan would be phased in over five years, would be free for households that earn $40,000 or less, and would grow to include infants, toddlers, and pre-schoolers.

Fees for parents earning more than $40,000 would be based on ability to pay, with the party saying the average fee for families would be $12 a day.

The party projects five-consecutive deficits to pay for its plan, with a $3.3-billion deficit in 2018-19 and a $1.9-billion deficit in 2022-23.

Horwath said the decreasing deficits would help the province eventually get back to balance.

“It's a very clear trend to get back to balance," she remarked. ”We think that that's an important thing.

“[But] we don't want to trade off the balanced budget against the fundamental basics that Ontarians should be able to expect a government to be able to provide.”

The NDP platform was analyzed by former federal parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page, who said its costing of individual measures is “reasonable.”

Horwath said the Tories would cut services while the Liberals would wait until problems sprung up to address them, but an NDP government would bring the change Ontarians want.

“People are fed up with politicians who offer nothing more than sound bites and decisions that just keep making life harder for themselves and their families,” she stressed.

“I am here today because it doesn't have to be this way.”

The NDP would boost hospital funding by just over five percent—$916 million—in the first year of its mandate, pledging annual increases at the rate of inflation thereafter.

It also would increase taxes on people earning more than $220,000 by one percentage point, and those earning more than $300,000 by two percentage points.

The NDP platform includes a number of previously-announced promises, including a pledge to return Hydro One to public ownership, to cut hydro rates by 30 percent, and establish universal dental and pharmacare programs.

The party also would spend billions to increase “Ontario Works” and Ontario disability payments to recipients across the province over their mandate.

As well, the plan would increase access to mental heath care to 28,000 more Ontario residents by adding 2,200 new mental health workers over five years.

The platform further calls for the addition of 15,000 additional long-term care beds, with spending ramping up over five years from $164 million to $923 million.

The party also would add a three percent surcharge on vehicles that cost more than $90,000, which it expects will raise $12 million a year.

The NDP also is promising to cut auto insurance rates by 15 percent, echoing a promise the Liberal government made in 2013 and thus far has failed to achieve.

Barry Kay, a political science professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the NDP platform is an attempt to break through a media landscape dominated by the Liberal government and the Tories, who lead in the polls.

“More than anything, the NDP just want to get noticed,” Kay said.

“The fact that the Liberals have pushed left out of desperation . . . has very much encroached upon their territory,” he noted.

Kay said while Horwath still is very popular, with her approval ratings consistently topping both the Liberal and Tory leaders, it hasn't translated to broadening the appeal of her party.

“If the NDP is going to catch fire, it's going to be because the Liberals [and Tories] have done such damage to each other during the course of the campaign,” he remarked.

“They have to keep above the fray and not get too involved in gutter politics,” Kay stressed.

Ontario heads to the polls June 7.

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