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McGuinty rebuffs NDP, seeks to limit debate on Ontario budget bill

The McGuinty government has refused to break up its 351-page omnibus budget bill and has instead tabled a motion to limit clause-by-clause debate to 13 hours, in a bid to pave the way for a freeze on corporate tax rates and a new surtax on the rich by July 1.

Premier Dalton McGuinty said Monday he wants to implement the entire budget bill, rejecting efforts by New Democrats to fast-track the document's tax measures and allow more time to debate controversial proposals to outsource services to the private sector.

"We don't intend to pick and choose certain aspects of the budget," Mr. McGuinty said in Question Period.

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The Premier said his government plans to vote against a private member's bill unveiled by NDP Leader Andrea Horwath last week that would spin off the tax measures from the rest of the budget bill. The government tabled a time-allocation motion on Monday proposing to set aside 28 hours next week for public debate on the budget bill and 13 hours for clause-by-clause debate the week of June 11.

Ms. Horwath's bill was aimed at breaking the impasse between her party and the governing Liberals. But Mr. McGuinty accused her of reneging on an agreement to support his minority government and of using stall tactics to delay the budget bill.

He reminded Ms. Horwath the Liberals agreed to the NDP's push for a 2 point tax increase on individuals who earn more than $500,000 a year and a freeze on the corporate rate in return for the NDP's support.

"We both added a little water to our wine. There was quid pro quo," he said.

Every NDP caucus member abstained from voting on the budget motion last month, allowing the province to avoid a snap election. The budget motion passed with all 52 Liberal MPPs voting in favour of it and all 37 Progressive Conservatives voting against it.

Ms. Horwath said in Question Period that she only agreed to help the Liberals survive the first stage of their budget – the motion itself – and never promised to "shut down debate" on an omnibus bill that would give the government broad new powers to privatize services.

She cited a legal opinion released Monday by the Canadian Union of Public Employees that concludes the bill, if passed into law, will remove legal decision-making authority for privatizing assets from the legislature and turn it over to Cabinet. Steven Shrybman, a lawyer at Sack Goldblatt Mitchell LLP, said this will allow "back-room decisions" on the sale of Crown corporations, ranging from Hydro One to the Liquor Control Board of Ontario.

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"This morning, we got a real example of why exactly we need to look carefully at the government's omnibus 300-page bill," Ms. Horwath said. Legal experts, she added, say cabinet could hold a "fire sale of public assets" without any debate.

Mr. McGuinty countered that his government has examined privatizing some of the province's biggest assets, including Hydro One and the LCBO, but rejected such a move. "There will be no fire sales," he said.

Finance Minister Dwight Duncan told reporters the public sector union's legal opinion is "full of holes."

The budget bill spells out in broad terms plans to look for savings and efficiencies by outsourcing government services. One example is the delivery of birth certificates and driver's licences done by Service Ontario.

In addition to outsourcing services, the budget bill would allow the government to pass a regulation delegating oversight for such things as motor-vehicle inspection stations and the mandatory vehicle emissions inspection program known as Drive Clean to an administrative authority. A number of administrative authorities already exist, including the Ontario Film Review Board and the Travel Industry Council of Ontario.

But Ontario Ombudsman André Marin has warned that his oversight role would be eroded if these authorities assume greater responsibility for handling consumer complaints.

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About the Author

Karen Howlett is a national reporter based in Toronto. She returned to the newsroom in 2013 after covering Ontario politics at The Globe’s Queen’s Park bureau for seven years. Prior to that, she worked in the paper’s Vancouver bureau and in The Report on Business, where she covered a variety of beats, including financial services and securities regulation. More

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