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You can’t handle the truth (Because you’re not getting it in Ontario election campaign)

These are stories Report on Business followed this week.

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From the campaign trail
Even Pinocchio would marvel at some of the claims thrown about left, right and centre in the Ontario election campaign.

The famous flub by the Tories on how they misinterpreted a consultant's report on their "Million Jobs Plan" is well known. Similarly, the Liberal gas plant cancellations, the MaRS bailout and the troubles of the ORNGE air-ambulance service are well-trod issues.

But a closer look at some of the economic and fiscal issues is warranted in the run-up to next week's election in Canada's most populous province:

Rough night?
Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak, who paints himself as the only leader to give voters the hard truth, says in a Tory ad that "the truth is that a million people in our province woke up this morning without a job."

I don't know what morning that was, or how almost half a million people lost their jobs overnight, but, according to Statistics Canada on Friday, Ontario is home to about 549,000 unemployed.

Separately, in their "Million Jobs Plan," the Conservatives use a different number, saying there are 800,000 jobless men and women in the province.

Which suggests that 200,000 people somehow found work by lunchtime.

If you use different measures, by adding in those who've given up looking for work, for example, you can get close to the 800,000 mark, but not 1 million.

For the record: Ontario's jobless rate now stands at 7.3 per cent, exactly where it was a year ago. By the end of May, employment was up by 40,000 over 12 months, though that period was marked by a loss of 18,000 full-time positions and a rise in part-time work to the tune of some 58,000.

Here's an independent look from senior economist Robert Kavcic of BMO Nesbitt Burns, who was commenting not on the campaign but on Statistics Canada's jobs report: "Ontario is holding up relatively well, notching five straight months of job growth since the ice storm hit in December. Still, employment growth is tepid at 0.6 per cent year-over-year, with manufacturing jobs near the lowest level on record since 1976. Ontario's jobless rate gap continues to widen vs. Quebec, now sitting 0.7 [of a percentage point] lower, at 7.3 per cent."

("One million jobs" sure is catchy. The Liberals thought so, too. From the proposed budget that sparked the election: "Employment is forecast to grow by 1.1 per cent or 73,000 net new jobs in 2014, and increase by an average of 1.5 per cent per year over the 2015 to 2017 period. By 2017, Ontario will have created over 1 million net new jobs compared to 2003."

Uncivil servants
Referring to his plan to slash the public sector through attrition, outsourcing and layoffs, Kathleen Wynne's Liberals warn on their website that "Tim Hudak's radical and risky scheme will cut 100,000 jobs and plunge our province back into recession."

Not that we should cheer the loss of 100,000 jobs, but I can finding nothing anywhere that would back up such a frightening claim by the Liberals.

The New Democrats under Andrea Horwath, meanwhile, warn on their website that Mr. Hudak "would drive your wages down using tired, old ideas that have failed for years."

Wage gains across Canada have certainly been modest, but, like the recession warning, there is nothing to back up that NDP claim, particularly since Mr. Hudak abandoned the whacko idea of right-to-work laws similar to those in several American states.

Fun with crayons
I had a lot of fun with this one. You can, too.

The Tory plan includes a bar chart titled "Ontario's debt increase under the Liberals, 2003-2017," which purports to show the "increase of provincial debt" in that period, with a few years of forecasts.

There are no numbers on the graph, no axis, no nothing. Just a succession of ever-taller bars from left to right.

Try this at home: Measure the first bar with a ruler, and then the final bar, and you'll end up with swelling debt of more than 500 per cent from left to right.

According to fiscal tables compiled by Royal Bank of Canada, however, Ontario's net debt stood at $138.8-billion in fiscal 2003-04, and is forecast to hit $317.2-billion in 2016-17.

That's an increase of 128.5 per cent.

Lipstick on a pig
First, let me say upfront that I applaud the Liberal decision to miss short-term deficit targets in the proposed budget that sparked this election. There are bigger priorities, like jobs, and it has been a still-cautious government.

The question now, should they win re-election, is whether they can indeed meet those targets.

The Liberals say on their website that "economic growth is set to double over the next four years, and consumer and business confidence are on the rise."

(Well, yes, Ontario's finance ministry projects it will indeed double to 2.6 per cent by 2017. Which means it's coming off a base of just 1.3 per cent in 2013.)

In their budget, the Liberals projected revenue growth of 2.8 per cent in fiscal 2014-15. Then they're looking at about 4 per cent a year through their forecast period, all of which leads to a balanced budget down the road.

BMO's Mr. Kavcic says that's achievable, but "it will require a firm economy."

"Real GDP is expected to grow 2.1 per cent this year and 2.5 per cent in 2015, close to our call," he said of government projections after the budget was released.

"Longer term, however, growth is expected to average just over 2.5 per cent per year through 2017, while nominal growth runs at 4.5 per cent by 2016 and 2017. This is a bit of a departure from the more conservative forecasts in recent budgets."

And here's what Moody's Investors Service said at the time: "Given the new, larger deficit targets, the path back to balanced budgets presents more risk than previously assessed ... With the increase in expenditures, Ontario's budget places greater reliance on revenue growth to help return to a balanced budget. However, as with many other Canadian provinces, economic growth in the past years in Ontario has been below prior forecasts."

Road rage
To back up their pledge to end the gridlock that drives us all nuts, the Tories claim on their website that the average commute to and from work in the Toronto area is 80 minutes, the worst in North America.

It's true that in a 2010 "Scorecard on Prosperity," the Toronto Board of Trade cited Toronto's 80-minute commute as the longest of 19 cities studied globally, ahead of New York's 68.1 minutes and, thus, North America's worst.

But the 2014 version of that scorecard showed Toronto's commute time has eased to 66 minutes, or 15th among 22 countries and, notably, better than New York's 69.8 minutes.

There's a lot you can do with the extra 14 minutes that we've gained since 2010. Like double-check to make sure your numbers are up to date.

(It took me less than 14 minutes, by the way.)

Now, let's have some fun with photos...

From the campaign trail

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