Caroline Mulroney pledges to make up for billions in carbon-tax revenue by cutting government waste

OTTAWA — Caroline says her campaign to lead the Ontario PCs will focus on the theme of affordability in everyday life — and she figures her party can do without the billions in revenue it would forgo by scrapping plans for a tax.

That was her pitch Friday to a roomful of conservatives from across , as she gave a half-hour talk on stage at the Manning Networking Conference in Ottawa. For most in attendance, it was their first chance to size up Mulroney, four days after the rookie politician launched her leadership bid.

“This campaign, this election will be about the fact that Ontarians need to be able to afford to live in their province,” Mulroney said.

“We have to deliver two messages. One, that we have to make life more affordable for Ontarians, and we will do that. But also, after 15 years, there’s an opportunity to think positively about what the future’s about.”

But Mulroney’s talk was light on details about how exactly she would deliver on her promises — not unusual for a young leadership campaign, but a potential problem in an expedited race that ends on March 10.

The talk’s moderator, Toronto Sun columnist Anthony Furey, out that the carbon tax Mulroney now opposes would have brought in about $4 billion in annual revenue; scrapping it creates a gaping hole in the funding of the party’s platform.

In response, Mulroney made a reference to eliminating waste.

“The Liberals have been money for 15 years,” she said. “Just recently, the auditor general looked at 14 programs in Ontario and found a billion dollars in waste. Everyone knows that they’ve been money, we’re going to look there.”

She highlighted hydro rates as a key affordability issue, and suggested the party would need to “fix the structural problem” of the system, in addition to looking for ways to get out of expensive renewable energy contracts.

Mulroney also said the general tax base may have to foot more of the cost of hydro.

“We’ve got to find solutions that move a lot of the cost to the taxpayer base, and start delivering change,” she said.

(The party’s platform currently calls for moving $433 million in annual conservation program costs off of hydro bills and onto general revenues, but it was unclear if Mulroney proposes going further than that.)

Mulroney acknowledged her inexperience with elected politics but pointed to her 20-year career in law and finance, and said her fresh entrance would be a benefit with Ontario voters fatigued with Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals.

She also repeatedly mentioned she’s the only leadership candidate already nominated to run in a riding, and has spent months knocking on doors and connecting with voters.

“We need who can beat Kathleen Wynne and we need new, fresh,” she said. “When I knock on doors, I sometimes get invited in and I get hugged, because people just want something completely different.”

As for the internal divisions plaguing the party in the wake of Brown’s sudden resignation as leader following allegations of , Mulroney stayed on safe middle ground. She said her focus is on unifying the party.

She avoided weighing in on the contentious audit of the party’s membership list and the review of controversial nomination contests. “I know that there are problems, and (interim leader) Vic Fedeli is the right person to be working on this … I will defer to Vic Fedeli on these matters,” she said.

A day earlier, on CTV, she had been asked twice whether Brown would be allowed to run in the general election if she was leader. She declined to answer both times, instead only saying it was crucial to have a good process in place to handle allegations of sexual misconduct.

The two other declared candidates in the race, Doug Ford and Christine Elliott, are scheduled to speak at the conference on Saturday.

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