Tory leadership candidates slam McGuinty and Liberals

Three people vying for the same job were remarkably polite to each other and united in their distaste for the wreckage they say Dalton McGuinty is inflicting on Ontario.

MPP Ted Arnott invited the four Progressive Conservative leadership candidates to town on April 29 and over 150 people packed the Fergus Legion to evaluate which should get their vote in June. One did not attend

According to one long-time party member, the three who did were well spoken, and, during the question period, agile on their feet answering a battery of questions. That party member admitted, though, that none of those questions was particularly tough.

Candidates Christine Elliott, Tim Hudak and Frank Klees were at the meeting, while Randy Hillier was forced to back out at the last minute. He sent a letter that was read by Arnott.

Each candidates had an opening speech of 12 minutes.

Klees said he learned the definition of a Progressive Con­servative in the 1970s and has never wavered from it. He believes in fiscal responsibility and the responsibility to make sure that people who need help get it.

That premise “is what mak­es our party powerful” Klees said, adding PCs lose “when they try to be something else or some­thing for everybody.”

In 1991, he had the party pass a three-page constitutional amendment that policy comes from the grass roots and up, and it was carried in 20 minutes.

He said it was the basis of the Common Sense Revolution that saw the party win two majorities in a row, and, “then we forgot the grass roots. I want to go back to the grass roots.”

He promised if policy comes from the bottom up, “You will never see a surprise,” a reference to the sudden announcement of funding for faith based schools in the last election that many believe cost the party the election.

Klees said the Progressive Conservatives are “ready to reconnect with this province” and are in the process of choos­ing the next premier. He said that premier must have real world business ex­peri­ence, as he does, and also he must “empower MPPs to do the job.”

Klees would abolish the party whip, and allow free votes on all issues so “when you send MPPs to the legis­lature, they do what you want  – not tell you what we want … If a piece of legislation doesn’t have the full support of the caucus, let’s fix the legislation – not the members.”

Hudak said if McGuinty had listened to Arnott in 2005, “a lot of the jobs we had in the 519 area might not have gone.”

Ontario is now in “a state of decline.” It has lost 300,000 jobs, and is dead last in Canada in job creation and growth.

“Who in this room thinks Ontario should be a have-not province?” he asked, noting few would say they are better off today than they were when McGuinty took power. Mc­Guinty is “content to wait for a handout from the federal government.”

Hudak said, “In tough eco­nomic times, people look to the PC party,” the “party of ideas” and the “courage of inno­vation.”

He was proud to be a part of the Mike Harris government  and noted, it was “number one in job creation.”

He said, “We’re at our best when we stand firmly on our con­servative principles.” Those include rewarding hard work and lower taxes, as well as respect for the law.

There are a number of ideas to consider for Ontario, includ­ing a tax holiday on new hires , so people can get work, and suspending the land transfer tax so they can buy homes, particularly since the province lost 28,000 construction jobs in February.

As for harmonizing the PST and GST, he said, “This is the worst time to bring in a tax.”

He said instead the province should prepare for the future with new educations, including phonics returned to the classroom, exit exams at the high school level, the teaching of finance and the under­standing of economics in high school, and relieve pressure on teachers to inflate grades. “It doesn’t help the teachers and it doesn’t help the students.”

Elliott noted she had visited Fergus many times as a lacrosse family. She added she has 18-year-old triplets and “multi-tasking is a specialty.”

As for the province, “We all know Ontario is in a crisis – except for Dalton McGuinty.

She said the party needs to respect its past and to reach out to all segments of society “who have not heard our message.” She said that includes new Canadians, the youth, and women.

She, too, cited her business experience and 20 years of working with special needs people. She said her principles include family, community, hard work and public service. She believes in lower taxes, quality service, being tough on crime, and “unleashing cre­ati­vity and potential.”

She added that she strongly believes in “support for the vulnerable.”

Elliott said she has been laying out her platform so that in two years when the next election is held, it is there for all to see. She added that it would be ratified by the grass roots, and not be completely decided by her.

She said of top down policy that the party has “learned from the last election” and added “grassroots advice is not a one-time deal.

She promised to raise money and give riding associations plenty of aid for candidates in the next election.

As well, she said she would double the provincial tax credit from 11 to 22% for charitable giving, in order to encourage more help for charitable groups.

“I’m committed to running and winning an election,” she said.

During the questioning, all candidates favoured tax cuts to stimulate business and reward hard work. They all opposed the harmonization of the GST and PST. Klees suggested Elliott could have some influence there because her husband is offering McGuinty $4-billion to harmonize.

Elliott, whose husband is federal finance minister Jim Flaherty, said she and her husband “agree to disagree” on that issue.

Hudak suggested targeting Liberal backbenchers because they fear a backlash on that issue.

Klees said it will pass anyway, and noted that only Ontario, of the province that have harmonized the two taxes, has failed to reduce the provincial tax.

Elliott said it is important to fight it.

They all agreed that there should be compensation for confiscated farmland, and appeal process for annexed land.

Elliott said confiscation of land is “an assault on property rights. Hudak said he would like to see property rights in the constitution (Pierre Trudeau bargained them away when he repatriated it) and real com­pensation if land is confiscated.