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Hudak vows to cut regulation for Ontario business by one-third

Ontario Premier and Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne, second right, is joined by MPPs, Liberal candidates and supporters as she runs along the waterfront in Toronto on Monday, May 19, 2014, as she continues her election campaign.

Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Government regulations are a "hidden tax" on businesses, Tim Hudak has said, pledging to toss out at least a third of all regulations that apply to businesses in Ontario if the Progressive Conservatives are elected.

Addressing the "regulatory burden" in Ontario is just one small slice of his "Million Jobs Plan." A PC government would focus particularly on easing regulations for the agriculture, construction, manufacturing and cultural industries, Mr. Hudak said on Monday, adding that this would account for an additional 84,000 jobs over eight years.

"That's what this is all about – that hidden tax of red tape and over-regulation," he said.

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The number is based on a report that the Tories commissioned this year from an economist in Washington, D.C. But its findings have been called into question.

The report referenced the Fraser Institute's economic freedom ranking to compare Ontario to markets such as Alberta, which rank higher for economic freedom and also are wealthier.

"The problem is, there are a million things that make Ontario different from Alberta or Texas," said Mike Moffatt, assistant professor with the Business Economics and Public Policy Group at the University of Western Ontario's Ivey Business School. "… That estimate of 84,000 is a bit back of the envelope."

One of the recommendations would involve easing restrictions on how many apprentices businesses can hire – a move Mr. Hudak has promised before, saying it would double the number of new apprentices in the province in four years, to about 200,000. That number is more realistic, Mr. Moffatt said – the question is whether there would be enough jobs for those apprentices once trained.

It was recommended in a recent report from the Human Resources Professionals Association and that is supported by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, he said.

The HRPA report estimated that a skilled trades shortage is costing Ontario $24-billion per year.

Mr. Hudak also reiterated the Tories' commitment to repealing the Far North Act, which was passed in 2010 and places development limits on 42 per cent of Ontario's land.

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This pledge in particular allowed Mr. Hudak to continue speaking to his conservative base outside of the province's largest city.

"The Far North Act has this downtown Toronto viewpoint of Northern Ontario," Mr. Hudak said. "Basically it's a viewpoint that the North is some giant park. They want to freeze it in time … I want to see it as an area for job creation, for investment."

Mr. Hudak singled out fees paid to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) as an example of what he sees as the excessively onerous cost of regulations.

His campaign also promised to get rid of rules that "prohibit competitive bids on government maintenance [and] construction projects" – a reference to regulations that require some government institutions to hire unionized labour.

Also on Monday, Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne visited Ontario Place to announce that her government would not allow condos to be built at the site of the former amusement park, if the Liberals are re-elected on June 12.

Instead, she said her party would partner with the private sector to resurrect the attraction as a music venue and public park.

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"We want to make sure that the 'people's place' – Ontario Place – becomes an attraction for tourism, but also for the community. A place to be used by everyone," Ms. Wynne said.

The plans to redevelop the site include a year-round live music venue, a 7.5-acre urban park, a bike trail and a canal district with waterfront stores and restaurants.

One concern with redeveloping Ontario Place is the nearby Toronto island airport where the city is considering a proposal from Porter Airlines to extend the runway and allow for jets, whose flight path would be partly above the waterfront attraction. Ms. Wynne said the airport expansion is up to the city and her party won't let that decision hold them back from redeveloping the space.

Located just south of Exhibition Place, Ontario Place has sat semi-vacant since 2012 when the original amusement park, which opened in 1971, was closed. While some of the space, such as the Molson Amphitheatre, is still open seasonally, there has been much debate over how to make the best use of the expansive site.

With a report from Kaleigh Rogers

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