OTTAWA - The Ontario New Democratic Party would cover half the burden of Ottawa’s transit operation costs if elected to lead the province this October, according to leader Andrea Horwath.
NDP leader Andrea Horwath (left) speaks to Mayor Jim Watson in council chambers after she spoke to a crowd of local businesspeople as part of the Ottawa Business Journal’s Mayor’s Breakfast Series.
The Hamilton East MPP said that her job, if elected as premier, would be to make it easier for mayors and city council to make decisions that make their cities more liveable.
“The premier should be making it easier for mayors to make those decisions,” she said.
Transit is a large part of that, and Horwath committed to funding half of city transit operating costs under an NDP government – if the city agrees to freeze transit fares.
With a $2.1-billion project to bring light rail to Ottawa on the horizon, the city will be spending more money on transit than perhaps it ever has in its history.
Sharing the cost of operating that system “would begin to put Ottawa on equal footing with cities around the world,” Horwath said.
Speaking to the business community as part of the Ottawa Business Journal’s Mayor’s Breakfast series on Aug. 18, Horwath said fare hikes hit transit users and result in reduced ridership and a freeze would help break that cycle.
If the province kicked some money towards municipal transit, it would help free up the city’s budget for other projects, Horwath said.
But she pledged that she won’t tell mayors how to spend those savings.
“I know that Ottawa has had a lot of varying and different political voices telling you exactly what those improvements should and shouldn’t be,” Horwath said. “I’m not going to do that. I am going to commit to working with council on their vision.”
Horwath also highlighted the Hintonburg Hub as a type of innovative health solution her party supports that would move the province forward.
Horwath said she recently met with proponents of the Hintonburg Hub along with the NDP candidate for Ottawa Centre, Anil Naidoo, and they were encouraged by what they heard. Ideas like the Hub promote healthy communities, not just healthy individuals, she said.
“This sort of creativity helps us tackle our health challenges in a whole new way,” she said.
Horwath highlighted the economic impact of creating sustainable healthcare and education systems during her speech.
The idea behind the community-driven Hintonburg Hub plan is to purchase a piece of land at the Bethany Hope Centre and turn it into a facility featuring affordable housing units and community services. Several non-profit organizations, including the Somerset West Community Health Centre, have been working on the pitch.
The Hub could be part of the NDP’s new approach to healthcare, which is aimed at prevention and keeping people who don’t need critical care out of hospitals.
That would involve creating more long-term care options, but also preventing people from having to enter a hospital to begin with.
“We can’t just wait for everyone to get sick,” she said.
Forgiving new doctors’ student debt if they practise in underserved communities is part of that, and supporting community health teams, Horwath said.
In her speech, Horwath also took a swipe at former Ontario NDP premier Bob Rae, who is now serving as interim leader for the federal Liberal party.
Saying that not every NDP premier has had a “stellar record,” Horwath continued: “Since the premier with the absolute worst record is campaigning for another party nowadays, I’m not going to take any lectures from my opponents.”
In front of a crowd of approximately 200 businesspeople, Horwath broached the topic of corporate tax cuts and expressed her lack of support for the cuts.
“Some of you may disagree with me, but I disagree with that approach,” she said.
Instead, the NDP would focus any tax cuts where they can help create jobs and investments – mostly for small businesses, those that invest in the education of their employees and companies that spend their money in Ontario.
The NDP recognizes that it is the private sector that will create jobs, but she said government does have a role to play in assisting businesses in helping lift Ontario out of an economic slump, Horwath said.
Ontarians will go to the polls on Oct. 6.