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Platforms crystallize as Ontario election day looms

Don Wall
Platforms crystallize as Ontario election day looms
IBAGLI/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS — Ontario party leaders have all made funding commitments in their election platforms to various transit projects across the province, with GO Transit among the projects listed.

With the Ontario election just days away, the province’s three main parties have completed the rollout of their major campaign pledges.

The Daily Commercial News offers a summary of the platforms of the incumbent Liberals, opposition Progressive Conservatives (PCs) and third-party New Democrats (NDP) along with notes on the Green Party with an eye on issues of direct relevance to the construction sector.

Today will feature long-term infrastructure pledges including major projects and social project spending; roads and transit; training and apprenticeships; and business taxes.

Tomorrow will highlight housing; climate change/green building; the Ring of Fire, remote and First Nations development.


Long-term infrastructure/social projects

The governing Liberals under Premier Kathleen Wynne are running on pledges contained in their March 28 budget.

The document ramped up their long-term infrastructure plan, promising $230 billion over 14 years up to 2028 for “priority projects such as hospitals, schools, transit, bridges and roads.”

The health care file includes an expansion of capacity as the Liberals plan to spend $19 billion on hospital infrastructure over the next 10 years.

New in 2018 was a pledged allocation of $16 billion over the 14-year period to build new schools and renovate them.

The Liberals would allocate $3 billion in capital grants to postsecondary institutions over the next 10 years and would support 35,000 long-term-care beds for seniors.

The NDP, under leader Andrea Horwath, offers a similar long-term spending plan, with a promise to spend $180 billion on infrastructure over the next 10 years, but with one significant difference — the New Democrats prefer public projects over public-private partnerships (P3s).

Major projects will include an expanded role for Community Benefits Agreements, says the platform document.

The NDP will spend $19 billion over 10 years on hospital capital expansion; create 40,000 more long-term care beds, including 15,000 new beds over the next five years; and open 35 new Community Health Centres by 2025, with a capital investment of $42 million per year starting in 2020.

The PCs have posted a Plan for Ontario, titled For the People, on their website.

One notable social infrastructure announcement was a promise to invest in 15,000 new long-term-care beds in five years, and 30,000 beds over 10 years.


Transit and roads

The PCs issued a full commitment to existing public transit projects immediately after the writ was dropped and expanded upon others.

PC Leader Doug Ford said his government would spend an additional $5 billion on new subways for Toronto on top of the $9 billion already committed to new transit projects in the city. Priority builds are the downtown relief line ($6.8 billion), the Yonge extension ($5.6 billion) and closing the loop with the Scarborough subway extension ($3.35 billion).

Ford has said future extensions of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT should be built underground.

Ford also supports two-way all-day GO service that will include the Niagara GO expansion and service expansions to Bowmanville ($450 million) and Kitchener. Ford said he is committed to investing in Phase 2 of the Ottawa LRT along with other existing regional transit priorities.

The PCs also acknowledged the needs of small towns with a website statement: “We can also do more to help other parts of Ontario get moving. Whether it is by investing in expanded broadband, increasing local infrastructure funding, or exploring highway expansion across the province.”

Specific projects include six-laning Highway 401 to the 416 between Toronto and Ottawa and four-laning Highway 17 in eastern Ontario and Highway 3 in southwestern Ontario.

The centrepiece of the Liberals transit plan for Ontario is the multi-billion-dollar GO Regional Express Rail (RER) electrification project. The 2018 budget included a spending target for the 2014-2028 period of $79 billion on public transit and $25 billion on roads.

Besides current LRT projects, the Liberals have also pledged to fund the $11-billion high-speed rail project between London and Toronto — also mentioned by the PCs.

Shortly before the election call, the Liberals announced support for Toronto’s SmartTrack transit project, including the Waterfront LRT and the downtown relief line.

The NDP platform includes promises to provide two-way all-day GO service between Kitchener and Toronto as well as year-round GO between Niagara and Toronto.

The New Democrats will support the current GO RER electrification project. Toronto’s downtown relief line will be a priority as well as Hamilton’s LRT project.

The NDP will also update Ontario’s Cycling Strategy, setting a specific goal for the number of trips by bicycle.

The Green Party under leader Mike Schreiner will also make cycling and walking a priority, establishing a dedicated four-year, $2.17-billion fund for municipal walking and cycling infrastructure.

The Greens will invest heavily in public transit infrastructure, boosting the Liberal’s current pledge by $1- to $1.5 billion per year.

Revenues will be derived from tools such as congestion charges, parking levies and land value capture taxes that will raise over $3.9 billion per year.


Training and trades

The NDP will consult with stakeholders including the Ontario College of Trades and unions to spend $57 million annually from the Jobs and Prosperity Fund to create new jobs in the trades. New opportunities for apprenticeships will be identified with a focus on bringing more women into the skilled trades.

The last Liberal budget introduced the Ontario Apprenticeship Strategy, with $170 million to be spent over three years to expand the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program among other targets. The government also promised a new Office of Apprenticeship Opportunity.

The PCs say they will fill the skills gap by increasing access to apprenticeships and reforming the foreign credential recognition process to help qualified immigrants.

Business taxes
The PCs say they will make it more attractive and affordable for businesses to operate in Ontario by eliminating the cap and trade carbon tax, cutting corporate income taxes from 11.5 per cent to 10.5 per cent, reducing red tape and regulations and lowering hydro bills by 12 per cent. They will also cut the small business tax rate by 8.7 per cent, eliminate the Jobs and Prosperity Fund and lower the Manufacturing and Processing rate.

The Liberals had cut corporate taxes from 13 per cent to 11.5 per cent. The NDP will return that tax rate to 13 per cent. Besides raising personal income tax rates on high income earners, the New Democrats will also limit the employer health tax exemption to small business.

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