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Doug Ford’s triumphant PCs gather for first caucus meeting

As premier-designate Doug Ford forges ahead with his plans even before formally taking power, his victorious Progressive Conservative candidates arrive at Queen’s Park Tuesday for their first caucus meeting since the election.

The 76-strong PC caucus is the largest of any Ontario party since the Mike Harris PCs won their landslide back in 1995. They will gather Tuesday morning for a speech from Ford in front of the cameras, then hold their closed-door meeting in the largest committee room at the Legislature.

The incoming premier has already slapped a hiring freeze on the provincial public service and given notice that he will withdraw Ontario from its cap and trade program for reducing carbon emissions. The NDP, now the Official Opposition, is already gearing up to fight Ford on the hiring matter.

Ford and his yet-to-be-named cabinet are scheduled to be sworn in on June 29. The Legislature could then be convened for a quick summer sitting to fulfil Ford’s promise of cutting 5.7 cents a litre off the provincial gas tax and to begin repealing Ontario’s cap and trade legislation.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath took aim Tuesday at Ford’s plan to implement the public sector hiring freeze, warning it could have negative affects on health care.

During the election campaign, Ford promised to launch an audit of government spending and to save billions each year by finding unspecified efficiencies, without cutting any jobs.

The exact scope of his hiring freeze remains unclear, but a source within the party said essential frontline staff, including those in policing, corrections and fire services, are exempt.

Horwath warned that freezing hiring at provincially-run, community-based health-care services could result in even more people winding up at already-overburdened hospitals.

“Any freeze on hiring in the health-care sector — whether that means leaving positions vacant or failing to create necessary positions — will have an immediate, detrimental effect on the health care people count on,” Horwath wrote in a letter to Ford that was also released to the media.

“Ontario families need and deserve to know the specific details of your hiring freeze, and how people will be impacted,” she wrote.

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