WALKERTON, Ont. - The Liberals will keep a promise to spend $30 million over 10 years at a drinking water research centre if returned to power, the premier says.
Kathleen Wynne on Thursday visited the Walkerton Clean Water Centre, which was set up in the wake of the disaster that struck the town 14 years ago when its drinking water was contamined by farm run-off containing E. coli bacteria.
Seven people died and thousands fell ill during the crisis.
Wynne was careful not to directly connect government spending cuts proposed by Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak to another potential such crisis.
She acknowledged that despite their differences, she and her opponents would never "consciously or intentionally follow a policy that would risk another tragedy."
Still, Wynne made it clear she believes Ontarians would be hurt by the loss of 100,000 public-sector jobs that Hudak promises to cut.
The Tory leader's proposed cuts would affect roughly one in 10 employees across the million-strong broader public sector.
"(Hudak's) priority would be to cut 100,000 people who work in the service of the people of Ontario," Wynne said. "We cannot pretend that decisions do not have consequences."
In London, Hudak denied he would cut back on water testing, calling it a "core service" for government.
"We will not be able to deliver those service if we go deeper into debt," he said.
When asked if his proposed cuts would shut down the Walkerton water centre, Hudak accused Wynne of exploiting the 2000 tainted water tragedy.
"I think it is rather sad to see the premier of Ontario try to take advantage of that for political gain. That's the kind of tactic Dalton McGuinty would use," he said.
The Walkerton Clean Water Centre was created in the wake of the tragedy in 2000.
Justice Dennis O'Connor led an inquiry into the crisis and put a significant portion of the blame on the operators of Walkerton's water system, but didn't exclude the Mike Harris Tory government of the 1990s from responsibility.
Water testing had been privatized under Harris in 1996.
While Hudak has promised not to cut any front-line workers, Wynne said she's not sure what he means by that.
"The fact is . . . 100,000 people taken out of service, whether it's in protecting people, whether it's firefighters, water inspectors, meat inspectors, or whether it's providing support for our children in schools or frail seniors . . . I don't know how you find 100,000 people without affecting those services," she said.
Pressed, Wynne reiterated she isn't saying the cuts would lead to a tragedy, but again asked voters to consider the consequences.