KITCHENER, Ont. - New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath is putting the plight of the middle class front and centre in her party's election campaign, painting the Liberals and Tories as out of touch with the concerns of regular Ontarians.
Horwath sent off her campaign bus with a speech Wednesday morning at the legislature laying out the NDP's two priorities as jobs and easing the cost of living, saying more and more families are struggling to make ends meet.
She said families are finding it harder to pay their hydro bills and called for a rethink of how Ontario's electricity system is organized.
The NDP would review, but not rip up, contracts with private-sector hydro companies and take other measures to find savings that would let her party hand out a $100 rebate to ratepayers in 2016, Horwath said, repeating a promise made earlier this year.
After a brief campaign stop at a west-end Toronto bakery she rallied a crowd at a cafe in the riding of Kitchener Centre, a seat the party hopes to take now that it's been vacated by a former Liberal cabinet member.
Backed by upbeat supporters holding signs with Horwath's name on one side and "makes sense" on the other, she linked a spate of scandals involving the Liberal government to Premier Kathleen Wynne's ability to understand average family concerns, casting her Liberals as being on the same side as highly paid public executives.
"Instead of watching as families get squeezed right out of the middle class we can show them the respect they deserve," she told the crowd, speaking with the help of a teleprompter.
Horwath did take aim at the Tories, who have also made employment their headline issue, saying their "million jobs" plan would do nothing for regular families.
But her main target was Wynne's Liberal minority government and its budget — a spending plan that Horwath announced last week she could not support, prompting the June 12 election.
"The same government that couldn't fulfil three promises last year is making more than 70 new promises this year. How can Kathleen Wynne build a ship when she hasn't managed to build a raft," Horwath said.
The NDP have released scant details on their platform, and though Wynne's budget calls for big spending on education, health care and transit — traditional New Democrat priorities — Horwath said the Liberals simply can't be trusted to make good on their costly promises.
When asked if she would follow through on a Wynne initiative to hand corporations government cash in the aim of creating jobs, Horwath told reporters she isn't ruling out the concept so long as it bolsters employment.
While her party is touting job-creating tax credits, Horwath said she wouldn't cancel any existing deals with business, such as the Liberals' recent $120-million investment in Waterloo-area tech firm OpenText.
Horwath then hit the road to Niagara Falls, where she campaigned in a riding her party snatched from the Liberals in a February byelection.
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