The Ontario New Democrats plan to introduce measures that would give families relief on their home heating bills, marking the first major test for the province's new minority Liberal government.
New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath announced on Monday that her party plans to introduce a private member's bill that would exempt home heating costs from the provincial portion of the harmonized sales tax. She is hoping the bill also wins the support of the Progressive Conservatives.
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak told reporters on Monday that he supports removing the HST from home heating bills. If the NDP and the Tories join forces, they could use their combined 54 votes to pass the bill into law. The Liberals hold 53 seats, one shy of a majority.
Both the NDP and the Tories pledged during the recent provincial election campaign to remove the provincial portion of the HST from residential heating and electricity bills.
Ms. Horwath said the private member's bill will be her party's first opportunity to make good on her party's pledge to make life more affordable for families. Removing the tax from home heating bills would save a family of four an average of $100 a year and cost the provincial treasury $350-million in lost revenue.
"It's a first step," Ms. Horwarth told reporters, in explaining why the bill would not also apply to residential hydro bills and the many homes that are heated with electricity. "We think it's a very achievable step."
Michael Mantha, the newly-elected NDP member for the northern Ontario riding of Algoma Manitoulin plans to introduce the bill next week, after the legislature resumes sitting.
"This upcoming legislature is a perfect opportunity to start doing things differently," said Mr. Mantha, whose seat was previously held by the Liberals.
Mr. Hudak noted that he pledged during the campaign to go further than the New Democrats by also removing the provincial portion of the HST from residential hydro bills.
"Taking it off heat and hydro is something we campaigned on each and every day," he said.
The Liberals, however, have rejected cutting the tax on heating or hydro bills and instead gave electricity consumers a temporary, 10 per cent rebate on their hydro bills last year.
In a statement on Monday, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said "reckless tax giveaways," such as the NDP is proposing, are unacceptable. He said the move would deprive the province of much-needed revenue just as Ontario is beginning to recover from a deep recession.