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Election Notebook: Highways, housing highlighted early in Ontario campaign

Don Wall
Election Notebook: Highways, housing highlighted early in Ontario campaign

Highways and housing have hogged the spotlight most days as Ontario’s provincial election campaign continues into its second weekend.

But while Ontario Premier Doug Ford has suggested both are priorities in the Progressive Conservative agenda, two other leaders, Steven Del Duca of the Liberals and Mike Schreiner of the Green Party, argued for alternatives to highways.

The Liberal platform asserts that PCs “choose costly highways over our kids’ schools. They scheme with developers and shut out communities.”

The Green message, included in its platform released May 12, is even simpler: “Homes not highways” is the top of six priorities.

Schreiner’s party was the last of the major parties to issue a platform. The Liberals, the Greens and the New Democrats under Andrea Horwath have all committed to encouraging construction of 1.5 million homes.

The election was called May 4, with election day set for June 2.

When Minister of Finance Peter Bethlenfalvy delivered the government’s budget April 28, the Ford government gave notice that the document would serve as the party’s election platform.

Two days later, Ford unveiled the party’s Yes Express tour bus at his campaign headquarters in Toronto and highlighted the PC’s $158.8-billion capital plan over 10 years, including $25.1 billion over 10 years to support new and upgraded highways, including Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass.

The PCs would also spend $61.6 billion over 10 years for public transit projects.

The platform budget was dubbed Ontario’s Plan to Build. Ford said his was the “party saying yes.”

The first official day of the campaign, Ford again highlighted the proposed 59-kilometre Highway 413 which would run from the Highway 401/407 to Highway 400 in Vaughan. The highway would create 8,000 construction jobs, the premier said.

“People are tired of the gridlock traffic that they see every single day sitting there,” Ford remarked. “It’s absolutely critical that we get this province moving.”

Other highlights of the PC campaign included:

  • Ford visited Bowmanville where he highlighted his government’s plans to spend $730 million to extend GO service to four new stations in Durham. The budget had reiterated promises to continue work on four Toronto rail projects, the Ontario Line, the Sheppard Subway Extension, the Eglinton Crosstown West Extension and the Scarborough extension, at a total cost approaching $30 billion.
  • During the leaders debate held in North Bay May 10, Ford reemphasized his party’s plan to support road access to the Ring of Fire, their commitment to reinstate the Northlander train and $74 million to upgrade a highway to Timmins.

 

New Democrats

NDP Leader Horwath, in her fourth campaign, has come out aggressively on housing, proposing two new agencies to kickstart the sector. The new Housing Ontario would build 250,000 affordable homes that are operated by public, non-profit and co-op agencies. The NDP would end exclusionary zoning, encouraging development within existing urban boundaries and updating zoning rules to enable the construction of affordable “missing middle” housing.

The NDP would also accelerate a number of hospital projects, including builds in Brampton, Niagara Falls, Windsor-Essex and Kitchener, and would begin work on new hospital projects in Scarborough and Sioux Lookout.

The NDP campaign slogan is: Strong. Ready. Working for You.

Horwath also set her sights on Skilled Trades Ontario, pledging to ensure that experienced tradespeople and workers are a majority on the board.

“We’ll ensure active participation of tradespeople in advisory boards of Skilled Trades Ontario, as was done successfully with previous individual trades boards,” the platform states.

The NDP would also boost trades training in northern Ontario; implement anti-scab legislation; remove barriers to joining a union so that any workplace can unionize when 55 per cent of workers sign a card stating they want to join a union; strengthen the Employment Standards Act; move towards public long-term care; push for more high school trades and shop classes; and create thousands of new jobs through “green job certification.”

Like the Greens and the Liberals, the NDP would scrap plans for the 413.

 

Liberals, Greens

On the eve of the election call Liberal Leader Del Duca, a former minister of transportation, announced a plan to create a flat fee of one dollar for all public transit in the province for the next two years – he called it Buck-a-Ride.

The Liberals estimated the revenue shortfall at $1.81-billion through 2023-24. They would subsidize that amount and boost support for day-to-day operations by $375 million annually.

The Liberal slogan is: Together, We Can Make Ontario a Place to Grow.

Del Duca’s party would also establish a new provincial agency that would promote new affordable housing and it would scrap Minister’s Zoning Orders, used by the Ford government to expedite new developments.

The Liberals would reduce red tape they say is driving the cost of new homes up; unlock provincial land for housing by burying electric transmissions lines and redeveloping underutilized strip malls and offices; introduce new taxes on vacant homes in urban areas and where developers sit on land; and institute rent control.

They would also move to public long-term care, with a pledge to build 58,000 not-for-profit long-term-care spaces.

Del Duca has estimated the cost of Highway 413 to be $10 billion and by scrapping it he would have that amount to spend on new schools and school upgrades.

“The Ford Conservatives’ misguided Highway 413 project…would shave just 30 seconds off of GTA commutes while paving over important wetlands and farmland,” states the platform.

The Greens’ Schreiner was the only incumbent for the party in the Ontario legislature before it was dissolved. The party said it would build 182,000 affordable community rental homes, among the 1.5 million new homes promised in the next decade; freeze urban boundaries; and clamp down on home speculation.

Like the New Democrats, the Greens would spend to support building retrofits. The party pledges to establish an annual carbon budget to reach net-zero by 2045 and electrify transportation, buildings and industry.

The Green platform slogan is: The Green Plan – New Solutions to Old Problems.

Representation in the legislature upon dissolution was PCs 67 seats, NDP 38, Liberal 7, Green 1, New Blue 1, Ontario 1, Independent 6 and vacancies 3.

 

Follow the author on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.

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