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Liberals promise $1 billion for Ring of Fire, more hospices, better math scores

THUNDER BAY, Ont. - Ontario's Liberals are promising to go ahead and spend $1 billion to build a transportation route to the Ring of Fire mineral deposit, with or without financial help from the federal Conservatives.

But they haven't decided where or when they'll start building it, or how they'll find another $1 billion to complete the route in a remote region of northern Ontario if Ottawa won't provide the funds.

They say those decisions will be up to a development corporation that they'll create within 60 days of taking office that will include both levels of government, First Nations and private companies.

The Liberals are also promising to build more hospices, cap hospital parking fees and help high-school students plan their path to a desired career if they're re-elected on June 12.

Officials say the platform essentially fleshes out more details of their failed May 1 budget that they'd planned to announce as they took the document on the road, and are fully costed.

It includes some common ground with their rivals, who triggered the election when they said they couldn't support the budget.

The Liberals say they'd improve students' math scores and physical activity, as well as increase apprenticeship spaces, which the Progressive Conservatives have also proposed.

They're also promising to reduce wait times in five areas by more than 50 per cent and are guaranteeing that every resident has access to a primary care provider, such as doctor or nurse-practioners.

The New Democrats have also said they'll reduce wait times and create more access to health-care services if they're elected.

Premier Kathleen Wynne, some union leaders and NDP supporters have slammed New Democrat leader Andrea Horwath for refusing to support the budget, saying they could have supported many of the measures it contained.

Those included a hike in the minimum wage, billions to expand public transit and pay hikes for personal support workers and early childhood educators.

The Liberal budget also promised a provincial pension plan, a $2.5-billion fund for corporate grants and higher taxes for individuals earning more than $150,000.

The Liberals had planned to spend $12.5 billion more than they take in this year, up from $11.3 billion last year and the $10.1 billion projected in their 2013 budget. They said they still plan to slay the deficit in 2017-18, but won't sacrifice the province's public services to meet that deadline.

Spending was forecast to jump by $3.4 billion this year, $900 million more than projected in the 2013 budget, with program spending expected to climb by nearly $3 billion to $119.4 billion.

That's going to help push up the province's net debt by $20.1 billion to $289.3 billion this year, a staggering 40 per cent of gross domestic product.

Economists noted that Ontario's current ratio of nearly 39 per cent is almost 50 per cent higher than it was six years ago, creating a "longer-term vulnerability" for the province.

Moody's Investments Service said the planned increase in planned deficits for 2014-15 and 2015-16 compared to previous budget estimates "represents a credit negative for the province."

The Canadian Press

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