NDP wants 'reasonable' changes to Ontario budget
TORONTO - Ontario's New Democrats are being "reasonable" by working with the minority Liberal government to pass the budget and avoid triggering another election, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said Monday.
"We have differences of opinion on a variety of issues, but the NDP are being responsible," Duncan said.
"Unlike the Tories, they don't want to force an election."
The Progressive Conservatives vowed to vote against the budget immediately after it was made public last week, so the Liberals need at least two NDP votes to pass it or their government will fall.
That would automatically trigger Ontario's second election in five months.
The NDP, on the other hand, said it wanted to consult voters about changes people would like to see before deciding whether to support the Liberals' plan and prop up the government.
"We haven't had a minority government in Ontario in a long time, so we're trying to work our way through it," NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said.
"I'm not drawing lines in the sand and I'm not making knee-jerk reactions like others have. I'm prepared to actually take the time to actually engage people in a conversation about this budget."
Duncan said the Liberals and NDP have been talking at the staff level about possible amendments, but there were no formal negotiations between elected politicians from each party.
"If there's anything that involves spending, they will have to identify where the money comes from," he said. "We will not raise taxes."
The NDP was "flooded" with 10,000 responses to a toll-free hotline and a website set up to solicit feedback, but the only clear theme to emerge is a lack of support for the budget, Horwath said.
"The responses have been all over the map, so we're taking our time to get that information and think about it seriously," she said.
"A lot of people don't want an election, but many, many people think it's worth having one over this budget."
Duncan said the Liberals consider an election "unnecessary" and the wrong direction to go in.
"Most Ontarians don't want an election," he said.
The NDP likes the budget's move to delay a planned cut in the corporate tax rate from 11 to 10.5 per cent until the $15.2-billion deficit is eliminated. They don't like the threat to legislate a pay freeze for about one-million public-sector workers.
"They talk about how they're going to respectfully negotiate, but then say, of course, 'We're going to negotiate all the while we have a gun to your head'," Horwath said.
"Legislated wage freezes don't pass the smell test of our Canadian Charter."
Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said the Liberals were too wishy-washy for trying to negotiate a wage freeze while keeping the threat of legislation in their back pocket.
"I would rather have seen a budget that actually had a jobs plan to get the economy moving again and then reduced spending," said Hudak.
"We've called for a public-sector wage freeze, and (despite) all my questions to the premier (Monday), he never actually came out and said he agrees with the idea."
Premier Dalton McGuinty told the legislature the government would respect the collective-bargaining process before legislating a pay freeze if necessary, and said he expected the Tories would support any such bill from the Liberals.
"Our fiscal plan provides no funding for incremental compensation increases for new collective agreements," McGuinty said.
"We make it perfectly clear that we intend to hold the line, and I say to my honourable colleague that, should we ever require his support, we look forward to that."