Tory leader pushes economic themes

Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak stuck to familiar themes of the economy and job growth as the keynote speaker at Thursday’s annual general meeting of the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce at the Caboto Club.

“There are too many political leaders that seem to think manufacturing is in the past,” said Hudak, who examined St. Clair College’s trade programs before making his speech.

“They use terms like ‘It’s a sunset industry.’ I don’t believe it. My Ontario is always going to be one that builds things.

“It’s helped build our middle class. If you lose sight of that, you lose jobs and undermine our middle class.” With the Queen’s Park legislature shut down, Hudak has had plenty of time to travel the province taking the public’s temperature. Hudak said the feedback he’s getting from Ontarians tells him the battleground for the next election is going to be economics.

“Whether I’m in Windsor, Niagara or whatever corner I’m in, people are worried about jobs,” Hudak said.

“They’re worried about our economy and the drift they see in government. They’re looking for change.”

Hudak pounded that point home Thursday.

Balancing the budget, lowering taxes, pursuing freer trade both inside and outside Canada and addressing the skilled-labour shortage were the major planks on which he built his argument.

The skilled-labour issue was a particular favourite with local tool and die and mould-making firms turning down business because of a lack skilled employees.

“There are thousands of skilled-trade jobs that are open today,” Hudak said. “Companies that actually want to expand and invest, but can’t find the people to do so.

“The problem is we have a government which has policies that are stuck back in the 1970s. We need to move our labour laws into the 21st century, work with our colleges like St. Clair.

“We have a plan that will create 200,000 skilled-trades jobs.”

In addition to revamping the province’s apprenticeship programs and doing a better job of informing students about potential careers in the skilled trades, Hudak said he’ll hack away at the red tape holding up training.

The first thing to go would be the proposed College of Trades, which would regulate skilled trades in the province.

“A Progressive Conservative government would eliminate the College of Trades,” Hudak said. “We don’t need more rules and taxes.”

Hudak said there are also still too many trade barriers in place.

He feels work needs to be done on improving the trade relationship with the Americans but, just as importantly, the internal barriers within Canada need to be breached.

For a start, he would attempt to become part of the New West Partnership between B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan, which has created a free-trade zone among the three provinces. “It’s hard to believe we have trade barriers between provinces,” Hudak said.

“In areas like Windsor and Sarnia, tremendous jobs are to be gained from partnerships with Alberta and Saskatchewan in the oilsands or potash.

“Trade barriers cost us $6 billion. That’s a lot of lost jobs.”

However, Hudak said all these plans will be for naught if the province doesn’t get a handle on its fiscal situation.

He warned Ontario is drifting ever closer to the tipping point where the province becomes an economic basket case like Greece.

Source: The Windsor Star by Dave Waddell, Nov 16, 2012