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Hudak promises lower business taxes as he kicks off first week of campaign

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MISSISSAUGA, Ont. - Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak kicked off his first week of campaigning Monday with a stop at a recording studio west of Toronto to tout his plan to help businesses grow and create jobs.

But he wouldn't say if he supports government grants to Ontario's music industry.

The governing Liberals complained that Hudak used the backdrop for an election photo op, but voted against last year's budget, which created the $45-million Ontario Music Fund.

It's aimed at supporting four sectors of the industry over three years: record labels, industry associations, music startups and promoters.

Hudak said he rejected the 2013 budget because it increased taxes and pulled the province deeper in debt. This year's budget would have done the same, he said.

Asked several times whether he'd kill the fund if he became premier, Hudak would only say that the province has to slay its $12.5-billion deficit to create jobs.

"If we don't balance the budget, we'll lose more jobs," he said.

Hudak has made in clear in recent months that he opposes what he calls "corporate welfare."

Hudak said Monday he'd rather lower business taxes to spur job creation than give companies government handouts.

The Liberals have a long track record of giving taxpayer dollars to "well-connected" companies that didn't create many jobs in the long run, he said.

"I've been very clear in my million jobs plan is actually to replace that corporate welfare approach with lower taxes and fair taxes for all," Hudak said.

"That'll mean that every business has a chance to succeed, not based on who they know, or not based on hiring a fancy lobbyist. It'll be based on the quality of the product to give everybody a fair shake."

Metalworks CEO Gil Moore, who hosted Hudak's visit, said he supports the music fund, but also likes Hudak's idea to lower taxes.

"I don't think it's an either/or choice," said Moore, a former member of the bank Triumph whose studio has recorded tracks for performers like Guns N' Roses, Katy Perry and Drake.

Moore was also on hand when the Liberals announced the Ontario Music Fund prior to the 2013 budget, but said he agrees with Hudak that the province needs to focus on jobs.

He sees a role for government, as well as employers, in creating them, he said.

"With the partnership of government, I think the music industry in Ontario can be stronger and better and provide more employment," said Moore, who describes himself as a "free enterprise guy."

"So I think it's a win-win situation and I'm going to do my best to promote the music industry in general and the benefits that the Ontario Music Fund would bestow upon the industry — they're good, they're measurable."

The Liberal budget tabled last week promised to provide $2.5 billion in grants to businesses over the next decade, saying it would secure investments "that focus on job-creating innovation, productivity and going global."

But there were no details in the document about how companies would qualify for grants.

Premier Kathleen Wynne already announced a $120-million grant to Canada's largest software company, Open Text Corp. (TSX:OTC), and up to $220 million to Cisco Canada to expand their operations in Ontario.

Cisco's U.S. parent company rakes in billions of dollars each year, while Waterloo-based Open Text's annual revenues have reached $1.36 billion.

But Wynne has said that the province can't be "idle" in a competitive world, and must be "aggressive and creative in striking partnerships" with businesses.

"People understand that government has a role to play when it comes to creating jobs and attracting investment," NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said in a statement.

"What they're tired of are giveaways that go to companies that aren't creating jobs. New Democrats support smart investments tied to firm job guarantees."

Ontario voters will have their say when they go to the polls on June 12.

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