TORONTO - Ontario's public sector would be "at least as big" after another four years of Liberal government as it is now, Premier Kathleen Wynne said Tuesday as she vowed to hire nurses and teachers and still eliminate the $12.5-billion deficit by 2017-18.
Wynne revisited the issue to clarify a vague "it's complicated" answer she gave Monday when asked whether the Liberals would cut public sector jobs to balance the books if they're re-elected on June 12.
"There is only one party that's putting forward a platform to cut public sector workers and that's the Progressive Conservatives," Wynne said after touring a school in Sault Ste. Marie. "Will we implement a program of layoffs? Absolutely not."
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak has made job creation his only real issue in the campaign, promising to create one million jobs over eight years, although he admits half of those would be created anyway by economic growth.
But part of Hudak's plan calls for eliminating 100,000 public sector positions over four years to balance the books a year before the Liberals, which Wynne warned will mean deep cuts in core services such as health care and education. The Liberals, on the other hand, will keep hiring more public sector workers, added Wynne.
"I'm not going to apologize for hiring nurses and doctors and personal support workers and education assistants," she said.
"We are going to continue to build this province up, so the public sector will be at least as big at the end of our term, if we're re-elected, as it is now."
Hudak's plan will mean larger class sizes and fewer teachers and put student success at risk, warned Wynne. The Tory leader will cut even deeper than his mentor, former PC premier Mike Harris, whose spending cuts led to eight years of strikes and lockouts in schools, she said.
"He would in fact turn the clock back 10 years ... and once again turn our classrooms and our schools into conflict zones instead of the centres of learning that they should be," said Wynne. "If people liked Mike Harris, they're going to love Tim Hudak."
The Tories said Wynne knows the Liberals have to cut $3 billion in spending to balance the books, and insisted there's no way she can keep her campaign promises without hiking taxes on the middle class or missing the deficit target or both.
"She's being dishonest," said PC finance critic Vic Fedeli. "I think the only job she's talking about saving right now is her own."
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, meanwhile, said the top issue in the campaign is corruption after "the Liberals spent $1 billion to save their own jobs" by cancelling two unpopular gas plants to save Liberal seats in the 2011 election.
"This campaign is really about cleaning up the corruption at Queen's Park," Horwath said outside the Ontario legislature. "Ms. Wynne's record speaks for itself. I believe this Liberal party has behaved in a way that is corrupt."
Wynne said Horwath knows she's making untrue accusations about the Liberal leader's role in the gas plants scandal, but is on the attack because she can't justify the NDP's decision to reject the NDP-friendly May 1 budget and trigger the election.
"Andrea Horwath has offered no explanation of why she plunged this province into an election campaign, and so I guess that's why she's slinging mud ... making false accusations that she knows are not true," said Wynne.
Hudak made a campaign stop at a hair salon in Pickering, where he again promised to shut down the College of Trades set up by the Liberals, calling it a needless bureaucracy that is funded by "a tax on people who work with their hands."
With files from Maria Babbage, Paola Loriggo and Colin Perkel
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