Ontario Tories to extend gas tax cash to all municipalities
The Canadian Press
Published Friday, May 27, 2011 7:57PM EDT
TORONTO - Ontario's Progressive Conservatives are promising to extend provincial gas tax revenues to all municipalities and add more cash to the pot if they're elected this fall, The Canadian Press has learned.
A Tory government would give gas tax cash to all 444 municipalities in Ontario, up from the 89 cities that currently receive the funds, Conservative sources said.
The money is mostly spent on transit, but the Tories say they would open it up to more infrastructure projects.
The pledge will be enshrined in the "Changebook" platform that the Conservatives plan to unveil Sunday at their annual convention in Toronto.
The Conservatives would also boost the amount of gas tax cash that municipalities receive from the province over four years, reaching an additional $60 million in the final year.
The move will help smaller and medium-sized municipalities who want a piece of the gas tax pie to fund infrastructure projects, sources said.
The Tories have long promised to give municipalities more decision-making power, such as restoring their ability to say no to wind farms.
The platform is the first salvo in the upcoming election battle for the party, already anointed as Ontario's "government in waiting" by Leader Tim Hudak.
The 30-page document will also contain a promise to set up a provincial registry of marijuana grow operations and meth labs so that realtors and future homeowners will know what they're buying.
It's not just a health concern, but a safety issue as well for many families who are concerned about the ties some properties may have to organized crime, sources said.
Ottawa-area Conservative Lisa MacLeod first raised the idea in a private member's bill last November.
The Changebook platform is the first plan that comes "directly from conversations with everyday Ontario families," Hudak said Friday as he kicked off the three-day convention.
It will focus on three priorities: giving families and seniors relief, getting government focused on front-line services like health care and education, and "ending the waste and fraud and secret deals of the McGuinty government," he said.
"What will define us as a party is Changebook," Hudak said after addressing a "supercaucus" gathering of elected Tories and party candidates earlier in the day
"Changebook is going to reflect advice that we got through Facebook, it's going to reflect advice that caucus, candidates and I myself received through Twitter," he said.
"It's a result of town hall discussions right across this province and probably the biggest survey ever done by a political party in the history of our province -- over 20,000 participating."
But Hudak is keeping many of the details under wraps, refusing to say if it will include a deadline for slaying Ontario's nearly $20-billion deficit or lay out a commitment to allow beer to be sold for a buck.
He has provided a peek at some of his key promises in recent weeks, however.
Hudak has matched an NDP pledge to take the provincial portion of the harmonized sales tax off home hydro bills, promised to gut the governing Liberals' cherished green energy plans and boost health-care spending by $6 billion over four years.
The latter will likely neutralize Liberal attacks on Hudak, who's been portrayed as the second coming of former premier Mike Harris and his slash-and-burn agenda.
But Hudak has also offered up some red meat for the party's blue base: forcing provincial convicts to perform manual labour to earn "rewards" like coffee and TV time, which he's billing as a Canadian first.
The other parties quickly pounced on the idea, saying it evokes images of chain gangs picking up garbage along highways.
"One understands that Mr. Hudak's appealing to a certain audience out there with his American-style chain gangs," said NDP justice critic Peter Kormos.
"I think we should be investing in programming in our institutions that constitutes education."
The Liberals hammered Hudak's plan, saying it's the kind of regressive policy that will put communities and public services at risk if he becomes premier.
"It's a kind of a southern U.S.-state, Republican, Sarah Palin-esque kind of a proposal," said Liberal campaign chief Greg Sorbara.
"When you really think about it, we're talking about people who can do serious damage -- have done serious damage -- in the lives of their families, in the lives of their communities. And to say we'll dress them up in pretty colours and get them to pick up the garbage just doesn't make sense."
But Hudak says voters are hungry for something new -- and the Progressive Conservatives are listening.
"It just seems like there are two groups who oppose our policy: the Dalton McGuinty Liberals and prisoners," he said.
Change is the new Tory watchword. It was plastered on every wall and embedded in every piece of party paraphernalia at the Toronto gathering, from the convention's theme -- "Change Ahead" -- to its Changebook platform.
Premier Dalton McGuinty sailed to victory in 2003 on the slogan "Choose Change" and won a stronger majority four years later on a "Change That's Working" campaign.
The Tories, who are currently leading in public opinion polls, are hoping voters will turn to them this time. And they'll be getting some help from their federal cousins, fresh from a historic election victory that handed them a long-sought majority government.
Senator Pamela Wallin and Justice Minister Rob Nicholson will make appearances at the event, while Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney will be offering some lessons from the national campaign trail.
Tory officials say the convention is one of the largest in the party's history, drawing about 1,500 people from across the province. The largest was in 1996, when 1,800 loyalists gathered in Hamilton a year after Harris led them to a majority victory.
Repeating Harris' feat will likely be on the mind of every Tory at the convention.
Party operatives provided some details of their plan of attack, from reaching out to voters over social media to mobilizing the troops in all 107 ridings.
The Tories' online campaign will include a Facebook application that will reward followers with prizes for participating in events and providing information like their ridings and cellphone numbers.
The Liberals launched their own offensive from a war room set up at a nearby hotel, where Sorbara mocked "reckless rookie" Hudak with a stick-figure caricature called "Flat Tim" and other props.
"As we are about to begin the heavy lifting of the provincial campaign, we thought it our responsibility to bring a little levity to this Conservative convention," he said.
The Liberals are also planning a rally Sunday where McGuinty will address the crowd. Sorbara said the timing had nothing to do with the Tory convention -- it was merely the last weekend that caucus would be in Toronto before the legislature shuts down June 2.
"We're not trying to outdraw the Tory convention," he said. "We are trying to wrap up the parliament and wrap up our four years in government just before we step out onto the battlefield of the campaign."