New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath is calling for a cap on executive pay in the public sector and stronger protection for whistleblowers who identify waste and mismanagement, the latest in a series of demands for saving the minority Liberal government.
The pay for all newly-hired executives of hospitals, universities and other public sector entities should be capped at twice the Premier's salary, or $418,000, Ms. Horwath said on Thursday in recycling an idea from her campaign platform for the provincial election last fall. The pay for existing executives, including bonuses and other incentives, should be frozen.
Ms. Horwath said at a news conference on Thursday on the front lawn of the provincial legislature that she is doing everything she can to make the minority government work by tabling "thoughtful" changes to a budget that she says falls short in many ways.
"We don't have a massive laundry list that's not reasonable," she said. "If it was only a political game playing exercise, we would have asked for the moon and known we wouldn't have got it."
Premier Dalton McGuinty told reporters on Thursday afternoon that he wants to see the NDP's proposals in their entirety before passing judgment on individual components. But Mr. McGuinty did not outright reject the pay freeze for executives or Ms. Horwath's earlier proposal to tax the rich. He described the dialogue between the New Democrats and Liberals as "healthy" and "respectful."
"We're going to try to see if there's a way we can come to some understanding without compromising ...our greater responsibility as the government to make sure we have a fiscal plan in place that gets the job done," Mr. McGuinty said.
Earlier this week, he called on the woman who holds all the political cards in Ontario to show her hand and tell him what it will take to save his minority government.
"I'm not prepared to consider one-offs," Mr. McGuinty said in Question Period on Wednesday.
But Ms. Horwath has no intention of heeding that request. The latest announcement consisted of round two of her demands. On Tuesday, she called for a tax on the rich - a new tax bracket for people who earn more than $500,000 a year. "You'll be hearing from us again next week," she promised on Thursday.
This is the same approach Ms. Horwath used last June, when she began releasing her party's campaign platform in dribs and drabs.
"Look, I'm a woman," she said at the time. "I know you don't give it all up at once."
This time around, the stakes are much higher as the fate of the minority government hangs in the balance. With Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak's outright rejection of the provincial budget released last week, the Liberals need the NDP's support to pass the budget bill. Ms. Horwath stressed to reporters that she is not using her new-found power for "playing political games."
Mr. McGuinty agreed. Unlike the Tories who "abandoned' an opportunity to change the budget, the said, the NDP are making a "sincere effort."
Ms. Horwath said the Liberals' budget leaves patients waiting longer in hospital emergency departments while protecting the seven-figure pay for public sector executives. The government plans to extend a freeze on executive pay for another two years. However, the freeze stops short of affecting bonuses and other incentive pay.
Capping executive pay would allow the government to re-direct another $20-million a year into front-line health care, Ms. Horwath said.
The whistle-blower protection would be extended to all government entities that receive more than $1-million in funding a year and is a direct response to the province's air ambulance service, which is under investigation by the Ontario Provincial Police. The protection would allow employees to speak up when they spot trouble, Ms. Horwath said.
"The scandal at Ornge has taught us that there are too many people who see our health care system as a way for them to make money instead of as a way to help people," she said.