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Hudak should come clean about bad jobs math before June 3 debate: Wynne

TORONTO - Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak should do the right thing and admit that his promise to create a million jobs over eight years is a "fantasy" and "complete and utter fiction," Premier Kathleen Wynne said Thursday.

He has to come clean about the mistakes his party made in calculating the number of jobs their policies could generate over eight years, which is the centrepiece of Hudak's campaign, she said.

If he can't get one independent economist to back up his figures, he should redraft his plan before the June 3 televised leaders' debate so they can have an honest exchange, Wynne added.

"It can really be hard to admit when you've made a mistake, but it's the right thing to do," she said. "That's what we tell our kids and it's what I say to Tim Hudak today."

The Tory leader, who has already said he'll slash 100,000 public sector jobs, will have to cut even deeper into education and health care and fire more people to meet his promise to balance the budget in two years, she said.

"It's not Tim Hudak who would pay the price for this math error," Wynne said. "It's you, it's your family, it's your community and it's the people you care about who would have to pay for this mistake."

But Hudak is sticking to the job numbers, despite a growing number of economists who are questioning the math behind his promise. Wynne is being "fundamentally dishonest" when she says she can eliminate Ontario's $12.5-billion deficit in 2017-18 without cutting a single job in the public sector and possibly add even more.

"I'll take Kathleen Wynne's plan a bit more seriously if she told me how she was going to balance the budget by increasing spending," he said.

Wynne said her party's platform — an abridged version of the May 1 budget that failed to pass — is fully costed and verified by government officials.

Her government has made changes, such as expanding the powers of nurse-practitioners, to keep increases in health-care spending under three per cent, which no one thought they'd be able to do, she said.

"That is an ongoing process and we will continue to make those kinds of changes across government," Wynne said.

Hudak has promised a Tory government would bring a million jobs to Ontario over the next eight years, although about half of those would be created through normal economic growth, regardless of which party is in government.

But first the Liberals, and now a number of prominent economists, including a former federal associate deputy minister of finance, have poked holes in Hudak's numbers, focusing in particular on the possibility that the Tories misinterpreted information from a report they commissioned from the Conference Board of Canada.

The report, which analyzes the impact of reducing corporate and personal taxes, uses the term "person years of employment" in its projections, which some economists suggest the Tories have confused with permanent jobs, resulting in a vast overestimation of just how many new positions their plan for the province would create.

Metrolinx, a Crown agency and regional transit authority, appears to have confused "person years of employment" with new jobs in one of its reports last year about proposed transit projects.

The report says some regional rapid transit projects would create 800,000 to 900,000 person years of construction and long term employment by 2031. But a graphic on the same page says it would create 800,000 to 900,000 new jobs.

Tory officials said they had used some data sources that dealt in person years of employment along with others that measured employment in different ways to come up with the jobs figures in their platform.

Hudak said another independent economist they hired, Benjamin Zycher, came up with a number in "a very similar range" and Jack Mintz did a similar study for C.D. Howe Institute and came up with a very similar number.

"Economists might argue if it's 100,000 jobs or 150,000 jobs through lower taxes on job creators," he said. "It's a fun argument, but we're all in agreement it's going to create jobs."

— with files from Keith Leslie and Diana Mehta

The Canadian Press

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