PCs break fully-costed platform pledge

PCs break fully-costed platform pledge

REECES CORNER—The PCs appear to be sorry-not-sorry about not releasing a fully-costed platform.

On Wednesday, the party published a page on its website called "For the People: A Plan for Ontario," which has the stylistic trappings of a campaign platform and more policy details than the site offered Tuesday, when the leader was dogged by questions about his lack of a platform for the second consecutive day.

There are price tags attached to policy proposals and promised tax cuts, but there was no explanation of how the a government led by Ford would pay for all its goodies, and no accounting of how it all ads up.

There are no details about his oft-promised "efficiencies" or cuts — either where he'd find savings, or how much they would total.

Asked by QP Briefing whether this was the missing fully costed platform the party would release before election day, PC spokesperson Melissa Lantsman wrote, "The plan for the people of Ontario is all there – as we’ve said all along we’ve been making announcements on our plan everyday, this is the compilation of all of them in one place. The choice between modest and responsible spending of a PC government and the economic disaster that the radical candidates from the NDP would bring to Ontario has never been more clear."

The plan was shared by the PCs after Wednesday's Ford media availability in southwestern Ontario, so he has yet to answer questions about it from the press.

The approach from the PCs breaks a promise Ford made in the budget lockup on March 28, when he said, "We have 71 days left in this election. That’s more than enough time to unveil our platform. And we have a solid platform that is fully costed. That’s the difference. Ours will be fully costed, theirs isn’t fully costed."

The Tories had maintained that they will release a fully costed platform before the election, with Ford saying Tuesday that it would come out in the next several days. There are eight days until polls close on June 7, and advanced polls close tonight at 8 p.m.

The NDP continued to blast the PCs for their lack of details. At a campaign stop in Leamington on Wednesday, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the lack of a funding plan undermines the PC leader's credibility. "If Mr. Ford is only prepared to write a list of things he might do and put it on the internet, that’s not good enough. The reality is, people deserve to know what Mr. Ford’s plans are. What is Mr. Ford going to cut? What services are going to be threatened by Mr. Ford’s cuts?"

Ford has maintained he would not lay off members of the civil service and would achieve savings by finding 4-per-cent "efficiencies" across the board. He has not specified what those efficiencies might be, or how they will impact services.

When asked whether she was frustrated that Ford criticizes the details in her platform while lacking details in his, Horwath said she was disappointed at how the approach takes voters for granted. "I’m not frustrated for myself, but I’m concerned he’s being very disrespectful to the people of Ontario."

Asked whether the PC platform as currently constituted counts as "fully-costed," Western University economist Mike Moffatt gave an unqualified answer in a conversation with QP Briefing.

"No. Simply because for a lot of promises there's still no costs whatsoever or they don't break it down by year," he said by phone. "We don't even know what they're using as the baseline," added Moffatt, who has tracked all of the party platforms in a Google spreadsheet, and like fellow economist Don Drummond has found the PCs would add the most to the deficit. Despite his effort, there remain many open questions. "If you asked 'how large will your deficit be in year or two,' we really have no idea what the answer to that would be." Moffatt's best estimate is that the various promises equal about $7 billion per year, in reduced revenue and additional spending.

The Liberals, stuck in third in the polls, also slammed the PCs for being light on the details. A party statement read, "It is now more obvious than ever that Ford wants to go through this entire campaign without ever showing the full extent of what his cuts will need to be or where he'll make them."

The platform includes language that hearkens back to Ford's time as a councillor at Toronto city hall. "Ontario doesn't have a revenue problem.  It has a spending problem," the platform states, employing a slogan repeatedly said by Doug Ford and his brother Rob from 2010–14. 

Then as now, Doug Ford – who was his brother's campaign manager in his 2010 mayoral run – promised an external audit could save a significant amount of money by conducting a line-by-line review. But the city hall experience did not bear out the promised efficiencies. A 2015 review of the process by the city's auditor general found the review identified $16 million in actual savings on the budget of about $10-billion. The consultant review cost $3.5 million. The PC platform estimates that the cost to hire external auditors to do the same job at Queen's Park, where the budget is 14 times larger, would cost $1 million.

Other parts of the platform raise questions. For the first time the PCs attached a cost to long-term care beds, $62,000 per bed once operational, but that's still a fraction of the $140,000 per bed estimate of the NDP, or the $132,000 estimate of the Liberals.

The PCs promise $14 billion in transit funding for the GTA to support various projects, but as Toronto city councillor Josh Matlow has noted, the publicly-available estimates for those transit plans equals $30.4 billion, leaving an additional $16-billion gap. The PCs have not stated how they will pay for the $14 billion in the first place.

The PC platform has been an uphill battle since the party decided to dump the People's Guarantee, the glossy magazine approach that was meant to support a Patrick Brown-led party, unveiled with great fanfare at a policy convention in Toronto last November. When that platform was trashed, PC political operative Dan Robertson, who helped design what was the fully-costed platform, tweeted an observation that appears prophetic.

Former Tory cabinet minister Brad Clark also criticized Ford, tweeting "You have promised your candidates and the public a costed election platform. It is not enough to ask people to vote against the LIBs and NDP. While your candidates will not speak out in public, I will. The lack of a platform is impacting voter intentions."

-with files from Jessica Smith Cross

David Hains

QP Briefing Reporter

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