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Ford government will rewrite Ontario law to delay budget, avoid paying personal penalty

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford is rewriting a provincial law in order to delay the spring budget and avoid paying a personal penalty – a move that political critics believe is designed to give the government an advantage during the upcoming election.

The Ford government tabled legislation on Monday, which would shift the budget deadline from March 31 to April 30, giving the Ontario Progressive Conservative party a springboard into the provincial election expected to begin in early May.

The reason, according to Government House Leader Paul Calandra, is to give the government the latest financial projections as the province exits COVID-19 restrictions and as various levels of governments end their pandemic-related support programs.

“As we come out of that, review where we are at, review economic forecasts and we can put forward a budget that truly represents where we are as a province and where we’re going,” Calandra told CTV News Toronto at Queen’s Park.

The government, however, is also circumventing a law the PC party put in place in 2019 that created firm financial reporting deadlines that then Finance Minister Vic Fedeli claimed was an “iron clad guarantee” from Premier Ford.

“The guarantee would require the Premier and the Minister of Finance to pay 10 per cent of their premier and ministerial salaries for each missed public reporting deadline,” Fedeli said at the time.

Opposition parties believe the government’s motives are purely political and designed to present a rosy financial picture just before the election.

“They’ve maneuvered the budget date because they have stockpiled a lot of money they have stockpiled from the federal government, they’re going to drop a lot of that money in a budget and then they’re going to go to an election,” said NDP Finance Critic Catherine Fife.

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said the delay is about “politics not people” and worried about the downstream impacts of a delayed budget.

“I think they’re going to upset municipalities, social service agencies, non-profits, and other community organizations that rely on government funding that now have to wait an additional month to understand what the provincial budget’s going to be,” Schreiner told reporters at Queen’s Park.

The move isn’t without precedent.

In 2014, The Ontario Liberals under former premier Kathleen Wynne tabled the budget on May 1 triggering an election after failing to gain support from the NDP during a minority parliament.

Charles Sousa, who delivered six budgets as the Liberal finance minister, said the gambit paid off for the party at the polls.

“That budget was actually used as the platform for a majority that we won in that year,” Sousa said.

The Liberals later re-tabled an identical budget weeks after winning re-election.

Still, Sousa said Ford the government could be using the delay tactic as a way to shield itself from scrutiny about whether it can pay for its promises.

“Here we have an opportunity for the government who has to be held accountable for the decisions they made for the last four years to illustrate what they’re going to do in the coming years and they’re delaying that proposal,” Sousa said.

“They probably want to also ensure they are able to make announcements [during the election] without having it to be costed, and that’s an issue.”

The Ford government has yet to reveal the exact date of the spring budget.

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