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Hudak says Conservatives would not hike taxes to fund public transit

TORONTO - Ontario's Progressive Conservatives would freeze implementation of full-day kindergarten and sell off government buildings to help fund public transit, but would not hike taxes, Opposition Leader Tim Hudak said Thursday.

A panel appointed by Premier Kathleen Wynne recommended boosting the gas tax by up to 10 cents a litre to fund expansion of public transit to help ease gridlock in the heavily congested Toronto-to-Hamilton corridor.

Wynne has said she's prepared to campaign on the need for new revenue tools to fund transit, but Hudak said a Tory government would fund subways, buses and infrastructure projects by changing spending priorities and cutting government staff.

"We'll lay out more details about where we're going to find savings, but we've put a lot on the table including freezing the implementation of full day kindergarten," Hudak said as he released the Tories' 15th white paper, called Building Great Cities.

All-day education for four-and five-year-olds, which costs about $1.5 billion a year, is already offered at 2,600 schools and will be fully implemented at 3,600 schools across the province by next fall.

The Tories would also sell off a non-controlling share in government-owned utilities Ontario Power Generation and Hydro One to private pension funds to generate investment and help lower costs for taxpayers.

"We've actually laid out a significant plan for how we get government spending not only under control but focused on what's truly important," said Hudak.

The Conservatives also plan to cut thousands of public service jobs to help rein in government spending and eliminate the $11.7 billion deficit as quickly as possible, he added.

"There will be significant reductions in the size and cost of government," said Hudak. "There is a lot of room for actually delivering services better at less cost and with fewer bureaucrats."

A Conservative government would create a $2 billion a year trust for transit that would also be funded by selling surplus government lands and buildings such as the Liquor Control Board of Ontario headquarters and the OPG head office in downtown Toronto, said Hudak.

"Part of the growth in the budget as the economy grows under our plan will go into the Ontario Transportation Trust," he said. "If I can sell off the LCBO headquarters on some of the most expensive real estate in Canada so I can put that money into building a new subway, that makes a lot of sense."

Transportation Minister Glen Murray put out a release saying the Liberal government is "having an honest conversation" with voters about the need for transit funding.

"Tim Hudak has been clear, his expensive plan will mean deep cuts to Ontario's education and health-care budgets, including full-day kindergarten and hospital expansions," said Murray.

The Conservatives' white paper also proposed the province upload responsibility for major highways in the most congested regions, including the Allen Expressway, Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway in Toronto and Highway 174 in the Ottawa area.

It also calls for transferring operations of Toronto subways and LRTs to GO Transit, and recommends expanding and extending Highways 427 and 404 in Toronto and Highway 7 between Kitchener and Guelph.

Hudak would not commit to making any of the ideas in the 15 white papers the party has released this year as planks in their platform for an election campaign widely expected next spring.

"Obviously you can't have a campaign document that is 15 volumes in length," he said, "but the best ideas will be in our platform, which will be focused on jobs and the economy."

The Canadian Press

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