Ontario New Democratic Leader Andrea Horwath is proposing to fast-track tax measures contained in the provincial budget bill and break the impasse between her party and the governing Liberals.
Ms. Horwath announced on Thursday that she plans to table a private member's bill that would put key tax measures contained in the omnibus budget bill in place by July 1. Her bill would essentially borrow one page from the Liberals' 351-page omnibus bill by amending the Taxpayer Protection Act to pave the way for a freeze in corporate tax rates and a new surtax on the rich.
"It's very clear the people of the province want to see a government that's rolling up its sleeves and getting things done as opposed to playing make believe and playing silly games," Ms. Horwath told reporters.
She was responding to Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, who has accused the NDP of reneging on an agreement to support the Liberals and of using stall tactics to delay passing the budget bill before the legislature adjourns on June 7. If the bill does not pass before then, Mr. Duncan warned, it will be difficult for the government to implement its plan to eliminate the province's $14.8-billion deficit by fiscal 2017-18.
Ms. Horwath accused the government of trying to "ram through" the budget bill. But she said she is not willing to vote on the bill until the public has had an opportunity to scrutinize it.
The NDP is concerned about the government's push to outsource major services to the private sector, including the delivery of birth certificates and driver's licences. The plan to shift additional services from bureaucrats to private, not-for-profit entities is among amendments to 69 separate pieces of legislation in the budget bill.
The NDP will propose amendments to ensure that there is proper oversight of any private entity carrying out government services, Ms. Horwath said, adding she is concerned that many of these changes can be made through regulation as opposed to legislation.
"When you look at the mistakes that occurred with Ornge," she said, referring to the province's scandal-plagued air ambulance service, "one of the last things we want is the ability for ministries to simply roll out a whole bunch of more Ornges in the province."
The NDP helped the province avoid a snap election last month, when its 17 caucus members abstained from voting on the budget motion. The motion passed with all 52 Liberal MPPs voting in favour of it and all 37 Progressive Conservatives voting against it.
The Liberals are accusing the NDP of reneging on an agreement to support the government, because they insist that an accord between the two parties included quickly shepherding the budget bill through the legislature. Ms. Horwath disagreed, insisting that all the NDP promised to do was help the government pass the budget motion. She said she made it clear during a meeting with Premier Dalton McGuinty and their chiefs of staff that she intended to call for public hearings on the budget bill and propose amendments.
"There were four of us in the room at the time," Ms. Horwath said. "Everybody knows what the conversation was."
For his part, Mr. McGuinty has a different take on what happened during that meeting and says he wants Ms. Horwath to honour their agreement.
"We didn't come to the table with legal counsel," he told reporters on Thursday. "We didn't execute a duly notarized and witnessed contract in triplicate, but notwithstanding that I feel we had an agreement. And I have every confidence that Ms. Horwath is honourable and trustworthy as far as the agreement is concerned and will be able to ensure we have passage of the budget before the summer."