TORONTO - Ontario's Progressive Conservatives are signalling they are as concerned about defeating the New Democrats in two byelections next month as they are about the governing Liberals.
In a recent speech to the Cambridge and Kitchener-Waterloo Chambers of Commerce, PC Leader Tim Hudak used just half a sentence to dismiss the Liberals as having no plan to create jobs.
Instead Hudak singled out the New Democrats for his strongest attack, warning they would drive Ontario "into the ditch with the same reckless abandon as Bob Rae."
The legacy of the unpopular Rae government of the early 1990s remains a millstone around the neck of the NDP, despite the fact Rae long ago became a Liberal.
Hudak went on to say the NDP's "ill-thought and unrealistic policies would result in more debt and even higher taxes and electricity costs," and insisted only his Conservatives have a plan to turn things around and create jobs.
The Tories are going after the NDP, as well as the Liberals, because "there are no meaningful points of distinction" between the two parties, said PC party spokesman Alan Sakach.
"It's the same high-tax, job-losing approach," he said.
"So the challenge we're up against is a left-of-centre, Liberal-NDP-government-union coalition that's pretty much going to try to stop anyone who has a plan to stop the entitlements and make progress on the real problems we have like jobs."
"The NDP will say what people want to hear, but they still have no plan," he added. "Their unrealistic ideas are just going to drive up taxes, cost us more jobs just like in the Rae days."
The New Democrats said they weren't surprised the Tories were getting "desperate, nasty and negative" because people like what they hear from their leader, Andrea Horwath.
"New Democrats have a track record of making life affordable, lowering hydro and auto insurance bills, and providing tax relief for middle-class families," said NDP house leader Gilles Bisson. "Tim Hudak's probably trying to distract attention from his own plans."
Premier Kathleen Wynne, campaigning alongside federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in Niagara Falls Friday, echoed the PCs, saying the New Democrats "have no plan, and probably won't come up with one," and warned Ontario unemployment soared under the last NDP government.
Wynne also said Hudak wants to "pick up where he left off with Mike Harris" and start cutting and slashing government services, including health care.
The New Democrats don't hold either of the two ridings up for grabs in the Feb. 13 byelections. The Liberals held Niagara Falls and the suburban Toronto riding of Thornhill was Conservative.
The NDP took Kitchener-Waterloo from the Conservatives in a 2012 byelection and took Liberal seats in London and Windsor last summer, and is the only party with nothing to lose and everything to gain in the byelections.
The outcome of next month's votes won't change the minority status of the Liberal government, but could show which party has momentum heading into a widely-expected spring election amid indications the NDP won't support the government's budget for a third consecutive year.
The Tories also questioned the wisdom of Wynne's decision to call the two byelections next month at an estimated cost of $425,000 each.
"What a waste of money if we're actually going to be in a general election like six weeks down the road," said Sakach.