Ontario NDP pledge child care program, health-care spending in platform

By Shawn Jeffords
THE CANADIAN PRESS

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 Monday, 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 Monday. “We've been told to switch back and forth, from the Liberals to the Conservatives and back again. 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 preschoolers.

Fees for parents earning more than $40,000 would be based on ability to pay and the party says 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 2018-2019 and a $1.9 billion deficit in 2022-2023.

The NDP platform was analysed by former federal parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page, who says 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 said. “I am here today because it doesn't have to be this way.”

The NDP would boost hospital funding by just over 5 per cent – $916 million – in the first year of its mandate, pledging annual increases at the rate of inflation there after.

It would also 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 per cent, and establish universal dental and pharmacare programs.

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

The plan would also 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 would also add a 3 per cent surcharge on vehicles that cost more than $90,000, which it expects will raise $12 million a year. The NDP is also promising to cut auto insurance rates by 15 per cent, echoing a promise the Liberal government made in 2013 and has thus far failed to achieve.

Ontario heads to the polls June 7.