TORONTO – Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak says he’s hopeful that the Liberal victory in Quebec could mean a Tory victory in Ontario.
The Parti Quebecois was soundly defeated April 7, a loss largely blamed on its quest for independence that a majority of Quebecers opposed.
Philippe Couillard’s Liberals successfully exploited that weakness and painted themselves as uniters who would focus on the “real issues” — creating jobs and improving the economy.
Those two issues are also top of mind for Ontario voters, who want to see the province prosper again, Hudak said Tuesday.
“I’ll never, ever pretend that I fathomed Quebec politics, but I’ve spent some time in Ontario,” he said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
“Whether it’s a big city or small town in Ontario, the top issue is jobs and the economy.”
Voters understand that a strong economy is key to maintaining and improving Ontario’s public services, he said.
“They understand that if we truly want to afford things we care about — like helping disabled children or caring for the generation of seniors who will need more services in the time ahead — you have to have a strong economy to pay for those things,” Hudak said.
His party’s sole focus has been on creating jobs and they’ll campaign on their plan in the next election, he said.
It includes breaking down inter-provincial trade barriers, freezing government wages to eliminate Ontario’s $11.3-billion deficit, reducing business taxes to encourage employers to hire again and reducing electricity costs by eliminating the high prices the province is paying for wind and solar energy.
Ontario could be going to the polls this spring if the minority Liberals can’t get at least one of the opposition parties to support their May 1 budget.
The Tories have been itching for an election and have nominated candidates in 99 of the province’s 107 ridings.
“One thing that motivates me in every decision I make and everything I do in my job, and that’s more jobs — jobs with better take-home pay,” Hudak said.
Most of the talk in a campaign will be about the economy and health services, which is a concern for Ontario’s aging seniors, who are more likely to vote, said politics professor Henry Jacek.
But a substantial number of voters are focused on their disposable income and how money they have left in their pocket once they’ve paid their bills and their taxes, he said.
All the political talk about the minimum wage, hydro bills, retirement income — even Hudak mentioning parents whose university-educated children are still at home because they can’t find a job — is meant to address that concern, he said.
But the outcome of an election will depend on who voters think will deliver on their promises.
“It’s easy for Tim Hudak to say he’s going to create a million jobs in eight years,” said Jacek.
“If a party says we’re going to do something, people have to believe — not only that they want to do it — but they can do it.”
Right now, the Liberals will have a “built-in advantage” because they can lay out a detailed plan in the upcoming budget, Jacek said.
Wynne and her ministers have made a flurry of feel-good pre-budget promises over the last few weeks, such as providing more funding for school breakfast programs.
They’ve also pledged to move ahead with a provincial pension plan and revealed more details about how they’ll find billions of dollars to fund public transit in the Toronto area.
On Wednesday, the Liberals are expected to announce when they’ll eliminate the debt retirement charge, which is supposed to come off hydro bills at the end of 2015.
But it appears the Liberals are also planning to use Premier Kathleen Wynne’s personal popularity to their advantage in an election campaign, with TV ads describing her style as “what leadership is.”
Public opinion polls have consistently ranked Hudak lower than both Wynne and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
“I may not be the best actor on the stage and I may not be getting an Oscar,” he said.
“I’m not interested in trying to win votes by promising things that we can’t afford or we have no intention of delivering upon,” Hudak said.
“We have a serious, thoughtful plan. It won’t be easy, but it’ll be worth it at the end of the day in terms of more jobs and better quality services when we can afford them.”