JIM McDONELL: Economy the number one priority for Tories

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EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a series of profiles on candidates leading up to the June 12 election. We begin with incumbent Jim McDonell.

Jim McDonell

CORNWALL, Ontario - When Jim McDonell hears some of the criticism levelled at Ontario Progressive-Conservative leader Tim Hudak he has a simple response.

"The question has to be 'Do you like that is happening now?'" he said in an interview. "Do you like a government that is dumping money out faster than they can take it in?"

The Ontario Tories have used spending at Queen's Park, and the provincial economy in general, as the chief issue in an attempt to sway voters to their side in the run up to the June 12 election.

It won't be easy.

While there's no doubt the Ontario economy could use some new energy, critics have already suggested Hudak and the Tories are going about it the wrong way.

The Tories, it has been reported, plan to eliminate as many as 100,000 public sector jobs in an effort to rein in expenses.

Labour groups have openly questioned how a party plans to kick-start the economy by putting people out of work.

But McDonell said the Tory plan is not simply a move to send people to the unemployment line.

"There's between 50,000 and 70,000 people who retire each year. And there's 1.1 million public employees," he said. "We're looking at using attrition.

"We're too big for what we can handle. Each one of those employees' salaries takes taxpayer dollars to pay for them.

"We'll hire 100,000 less people. And some of that will be people who are outsourced, so they don’t actually lose their jobs, they're just changing their employer."

The Tory incumbent has been here before, trying to find a way to help his party defeat a Liberal government that continues to win elections dating back 10 years.

Last time around McDonell hammered other challengers. His 21,615 votes in 2011 were more than opponents Mark MacDonald (Liberal) and Elaine MacDonald (NDP), Justin Reist (Green) and Darcy Donnelly (Libertarian) combined.

But McDonell and the rest of the Tories found themselves in opposition again - this time with a minority Liberal government in power.

He continues to hear from frustrated voters whose hydro rates are too high, and others who are tired of the scandals that continue to dominate the Liberal party.

"Last time we didn’t have the gas plant fiasco, we didn’t have the e-health scandals," he said. "The scandals could take up really the whole campaign. There's mismanagement of taxpayers' money, and the penalty is huge – we're talking multi-billion dollars."

McDonell went on the offensive when it comes to job creation, suggesting little is being done to create a stable base from which employers can grow the workforce.

"We see no jobs planned for this government," said McDonell. "They want to continue the same and they are doing everything they can to make sure no information gets out on some of these scandals.

"That surprises me more than anything. We have some information out…everything points to an even more mismanagement of money than the public even knows."

McDonell said voters have been quick to bend his ear.

"It's a chance to talk to people and get our point across," he said of the local campaign. "Unfortunately people don’t really pay attention between elections. This gives people an opportunity to question people about what they feel."

A provincial election debate takes place tonight in Martintown, and candidates will meet again next week under similar circumstances in Cornwall.

Geographic location: Ontario

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