Ontario voters are poised to return to the polling booths for the third time in 12 months as the provincial election officially got under way on Wednesday morning. Premier Dalton McGuinty started the campaign for the Oct. 6 election with a visit to Lt.-Gov. David Onley to formally dissolve the legislature. It stands to be one of the more interesting provincial elections in recent memory as the Tim Hudak-led Conservatives look to match the success of their federal counterparts and end McGuinty’s eight years of Liberal leadership.
Meanwhile, both the NDP and the Green Party look to ride on the wave of optimism and success that their parties enjoyed back in May when the NDP were named the official opposition and the Green Party under Elizabeth May secured their first-ever seat in Parliament.
Locally, Kitchener-Conestoga candidates have been knocking on doors for weeks – and in some cases, months – trying to get a jump on the election. Voters should be prepared to see some familiar faces, as Liberal MPP Leeanna Pendergast, PC candidate Michael Harris, and the NDP’s Mark Cairn all ran four years ago.
“I’ve been doing a lot of hard work for the past four years,” laughed Pendergast when asked how she was preparing for the upcoming election.
The Liberals are basing much of their platform on their track record of job creation, education reform and healthcare improvements. According to the official party website, 81 per cent of students now complete high school, up from 68 per cent in 2003, the province has created more full-time jobs this year than the rest of Canada combined, and made universal health care law in the province and banned two-tier health care.
The party also announced this week a new tuition grant program that would help save $1,600 per student in university and $730 per student in college annually.
For Pendergast, though, this election is more than just towing the party lines.
“For me this is about real life,” said Pendergast, adding that a vote for Hudak would be a return to the slash and cut days of Mike Harris, whose cuts she picketed during her days as a school teacher.
Her most notable opponent is Conservative candidate Michael Harris, who lost to Pendergast in the last election by fewer than 2,000 votes. Harris said that constituents are tired of being stretched thin by McGuinty’s tax-and-spend policies.
“The last eight years Ontario families have seen their budgets get a bite taken out of them and I think they need and deserve some relief,” said Harris. “Under our leader Tim Hudak, we have every intention of providing that relief that they need.”
Among their platform policies, the Conservatives say they will remove the provincial portion of the HST off of home heating and hydro bills, cancel the McGuinty eco-tax, and lower income taxes by five per cent on the first $75,000 of taxable income.
“People don’t mind paying taxes but they’re tired of the waste,” said Harris.
The NDP candidate for the riding, Mark Cairns, has high hopes for his party following their federal success in May.
“Of the 1,000 houses I’ve been to so far I can remember one person slamming the door in my face, and that was a much higher number four years ago,” said Cairns of his reception by the public thus far.
“Around here it’s always been Liberal or Conservative, but I think in this particular riding people are more accepting of the NDP and see us as the better alternative.”
The NDP, under the guidance of Andrea Horwath, are campaigning on making life more affordable for Ontarians by removing the HST from daily essentials, freezing transit fares and putting an end to gas-price gouging.
The party also wants to reward companies for job creation rather than across-the-board tax cuts in the hopes of creating jobs, and cutting hospital emergency room waiting times in half.
“We have a very large area here and it’s growing rapidly, specifically in the south end of Kitchener, so freezing transit fares and expanding the reach of transit is very important,” said Cairns.
Cairns said he learned many lessons after the last election when he came a distant third behind Pendergast and Harris with about 4,500 vote, and that him and his team were better prepared this time around. He also sees the NDP emerging thanks to the leadership of the late Jack Layton.
“Jack’s perseverance definitely brought us out of the political wilderness so to speak and made us realize that we’re not the write-off third party. The NDP is becoming a more tangible option with the passing of each day.”
The Green Party candidate, Robert Rose, is running for the first time in politics and felt that now was the time to capitalize on the renewed interest in the Green Party and their message.
The party is campaigning on a message of lowering income taxes, balancing the budget by 2015, freezing tuition rates and increasing investment in co-op and mentorship programs.
On the more local level, Rose is concerned with the disappearance of farmland and the fact that small communities have reduced access to medical facilities due to their distance from major urban centres.
Rose said that the current parties are stuck looking at the past, rather than what the future will bring.
“That’s what the Green Party is about, we think about today but we have a strong focus as well on tomorrow and trying to ensure that everything turns in the right direction,” he said.
Despite the optimism growing around the Green Party – which only captured 2,783 votes four years ago under candidate Colin Jones – Rose is realistic about the party’s chances.
“I realize that it’s not like the Green Party is going to come out with a majority government, but the ideas and the fundamentals are in place now.
“Whether it happens this election or next, Green MPPs are going to go to parliament.”