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Tories release better-late-than-never platform

Facing souring polls and heavy criticism for being the only major party not to release an election platform before last week’s leaders debates, the Conservatives released their plan on Tuesday.

The document, full of pictures of a smiling Stephen Harper kissing babies and hugging the elderly, promises balanced budgets, more jobs and low taxes at a cost of $8.7 billion over four years. The words “climate change” and “healthcare” do not appear in the document. The proposed diesel tax cut represents over a quarter of the total cost.

As expected, the other parties panned the document, with both the Liberals and NDP calling it a failure. The ensuing flurry of press releases from pressure groups was scarcely more positive about Tory proposals for jobs, the environment or public health.

One of the platform’s major components is the commitment to “preserve our environment and protect the health and well-being of Canadians.” More doctors and nurses are promised but no new money is forthcoming toward that end.

Similarly, in the aftermath of the listeriosis scare, the Conservatives pledge $160 million over four years to “to hire new inspectors, better track imports and improve safety systems.” But the numbers section at the back of the document shows that this money is not new and does not count towards the platform’s cost.

“By staying the course, Mr. Harper has chosen to cut food safety funding and stand pat on the number of inspectors supervising the food industry,” said Agriculture Union President Bob Kingston.

As for the environment, the Pembina Institute’s Marlo Raynolds worried about the platform’s lack of commitment to a green energy program and the absence of a strategy for mitigating the impact of oil sands development.

“The Conservative party platform missed the opportunity to strengthen the party’s inadequate approach to global warming, and instead added more uncertainty to it,” according to Raynolds.

As in most elections, the biggest issue right now is the economy and the Tory platform pledges to “do more to invest in jobs for the future and for a flexible labour market that responds to the needs of Canadians.”

But one major union doesn’t see a coherent strategy for preventing job losses.

“Instead, the Conservative reliance on deregulation and the free hand of the market has led to a deepening financial crisis,” according United Steelworkers' National Director Ken Neumann. “Eliminating a few tariffs on imported machinery and equipment is exactly the opposite of a buy-Canadian policy that would help to bring jobs back in.”

There was at least one note of support for the Tory plan. Though few of the platform’s promises are new, the Conservative announcement of a four-year $200 million funding increase for the Strategic Aerospace and Defence Initiative was a big hit with the aerospace industry.

“We are delighted that the Conservative Party of Canada has decided to address one of the industry's main concerns in its political platform," Dr Claude Lajeunesse, president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada said in a statement.

And the arts community, along with much of Quebec where Conservative fortunes appear to be tanking, will no doubt applaud the decision to scrap controversial funding measures critics feared would lead to government censorship.

Rob Annandale reports for The Hook.

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