TORONTO – Ontario needs some medicine to cure its ailing economy, and that could include road tolls and raising the minimum wage, Liberal leadership hopeful Dr. Eric Hoskins said Monday.
He has the right prescription to spur growth and create jobs, which includes changes to the province’s health-care system and social programs, Hoskins said in a lunch speech to about 80 people at the Economic Club of Canada.
“People are healthy when their society is healthy,” he said. “They thrive when the economy is growing. They only succeed with adequate housing, reliable transit and strong social services.”
He promised to reduce the cost of health care by putting money in preventative medicine as well as nursing homes and home care services. Ontario’s prescription drug plan would be based on income, so people won’t have to stay on welfare to keep their drug coverage.
The same would apply to tax credits and benefits, so that only those who really need them are eligible, he said.
Hoskins also said he’d raise the minimum wage. He wouldn’t pinpoint a dollar figure, but said it would reach a level where adults working full-time won’t fall below the poverty line.
His plan also included an ambitious promise to develop a 20-year transportation plan in the Greater Toronto Area with new sources of revenue to pay for the expansion, which could include road tolls and congestion charges.
“Bottom line: everything is on the table,” Hoskins said.
“Transportation infrastructure is too important and the need to great to continue to allow it to be held hostage to partisan politics.”
Road tolls and congestion charges may be unpopular, but Ontario “can’t afford not to act,” he said.
“We need to look at all options.”
But tackling Ontario’s $14.4-billion deficit — which Hoskins promised to eliminate by 2017-18 — will likely require tougher medicine.
Asked if he would move ahead with the current government’s plan to freeze wages across the broader public sector, Hoskins said he’d talk to those groups to negotiate new collective agreements.
“I believe we have the capacity — including with our teachers — to reach negotiated agreements, and that would be my preference,” he said.
Public elementary school teachers are currently staging one-day strikes across the province to protest a new law that gives the cash-strapped Liberals the power to force a wage freeze and stop strikes.
Hoskins isn’t the only leadership contender to focus to transit as part of his economic platform.
Former cabinet ministers Sandra Pupatello, Harinder Takhar and Charles Sousa say they want a more integrated transit system to cut the gridlock that costs the province billions of dollars a year in lost productivity.
Sousa, who says he wants to be Ontario’s “jobs premier,” is promising to make Metrolinx — the provincial transportation agency — responsible for the Toronto Transit Commission.
He and Pupatello, who says she’ll make job creation her No. 1 priority, also want a high-speed rail line from Windsor to Quebec City.
Part of Pupatello’s plan for economic growth includes seeking out venture capital funds to invest in Ontario, which rivals Sousa and Glen Murray are also proposing.
Murray says he’d create an investment pool of up to $2 billion a year, as well as cut taxes, such as the capital gains tax for financing small businesses.
Ex-transportation minister Kathleen Wynne says she’d also invest in roads and bridges and try to get the federal government to create its own transit fund.
Takhar is the only candidate who has promised to eliminate the deficit a year earlier than planned, in 2016-17.