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On labour and expenses, Hudak is spoiling for a fight

Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario leader Tim Hudak spoke with the Editorial Board at The Globe and Mail in Toronto, April 16, 2013.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Tim Hudak is prepared to slash spending, contract out medical procedures and wrestle with unions over public-sector pensions.

Such muscular measures are necessary, the Progressive Conservative Leader told The Globe and Mail's editorial board, if the province is to balance its books and create the conditions for renewed economic growth.

He knows he will be in for a fight – but it's one he says he can win. "Do I recognize that's going to be controversial? Do I recognize that's going to be a big political battle in newspapers and in media? Yeah, I do," he said. "What do I do about that? I go directly to voters. … I believe average families who have to balance their own household budget get it and will support that."

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Such staunchly Blue Tory policies will draw a sharp contrast between Mr. Hudak and left-leaning Premier Kathleen Wynne in the next election. His campaign platform, for instance, will outline a plan to balance the books at least a year earlier than the Liberals' current target of the 2017-18 fiscal year.

The policies are also part of a broader attempt to brand Mr. Hudak as a serious economic manager – the man voters can trust to steer the province to prosperity.

It's a marked change of tone from the 2011 vote when, Mr. Hudak admits, he attacked the governing Liberals without presenting a clear alternative. Afterward, he said, he searched for a better way forward. "I did a deep think about not simply trying to win elections or be the opposition leader, because it's kind of like I auditioned for that job and 'congratulations, you got it again,'" he said.

The result of that contemplation is more than 300 specific proposals for reshaping the province, many involving major overhauls of government departments.

In the health ministry, for instance, Mr. Hudak wants to eliminate 2,000 administrative jobs, and expand the roles of nurses and pharmacists to free up doctors. He insists better care can be had by introducing more competition into the system, both by allowing patients to choose between hospitals and by putting some procedures, such as cataract surgeries, out to private-sector tender.

Other government departments, meanwhile, should either have their budgets cut or frozen, he said.

The counterweight to all this austerity will be a tax cut – either dropping the corporate tax rate from 11.5 per cent to 10 per cent, shaving two percentage points off the HST or slashing income tax – which Mr. Hudak pitches as a way of ensuring spending cuts don't stifle economic growth.

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It will no doubt be a tall order to forgo that revenue when the province is already cutting back. But it is on the labour front that Mr. Hudak will likely have the hardest time implementing his agenda, should he one day become premier.

He wants to make the province's manufacturing labour market more competitive with so-called "right-to-work" states, such as Indiana Michigan, by allowing workers to opt out of unions. Teacher unions would be forbidden from withdrawing extracurricular activities as they did this school year. And he would scale back public-sector pensions to bring them in line with their private counterparts, such as by moving to defined-contribution plans.

It's perhaps no wonder, then, that he sees the next election, difficult as it will be, as the easy part. "The greater challenge is going to be governing and getting our province moving again. Attracting jobs and getting spending under control," he said. "The time for tinkering around the margins, the time for a new coat of paint, that's well past us."

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About the Author
Washington correspondent

Adrian Morrow covers U.S. politics from Washington, D.C. Previously he was The Globe's Ontario politics reporter. He's covered news, crime and sports for The Globe since 2010. He won the National Newspaper Award for politics reporting in 2016. More

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