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Newlywed Liberals, NDP bicker over stalled Ontario budget bill

Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan is scrummed by the media after the 2012 provincial budget vote at Queen's Park in Toronto on Tuesday, April 24, 2012.


The short-lived marriage between Ontario's minority Liberal government and the New Democrats has hit a bumpy patch, amid accusations that the accord between the two parties over the budget is in jeopardy.

Finance Minister Dwight Duncan accused the NDP at a news conference on Wednesday of reneging on an agreement to support the Liberals, saying the budget bill is at risk of becoming stranded in the legislature. The NDP is using stall tactics to delay passing the bill before the legislature adjourns on June 7, he said, making it difficult for the government to implement its plan to eliminate the province's $14.8-billion deficit by fiscal 2017-18.

"This is no time to play political games with the province's finances," Mr. Duncan said.

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The budget bill contains major concessions aimed at saving Premier Dalton McGuinty's minority government, including a new surtax on the rich and a freeze on corporate tax rates. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath pushed for these changes in return for supporting the budget.

But there appears to be a misunderstanding between the Liberals and the NDP over the exact nature of their verbal accord last month that helped the province dodge a snap election.

Mr. Duncan said it is his understanding that the New Democrats agreed to help the Liberals expedite the budget bill through the legislature and pass it into law before the summer recess.

"When is a deal not a deal," he said.

NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson countered that the accord was just on the budget motion, not the omnibus budget bill that would hand the government new powers to privatize more public services and water down environmental protections.

The budget motion passed with all 52 Liberal MPPs voting in favour of it and, as widely expected, all 37 Progressive Conservatives voting against it. The NDP abstained from voting, despite winning concessions, because the budget does not do enough to create new jobs for many Ontarians out of work.

Mr. Bisson said the NDP is prepared to fast track the new 2 percentage point surtax on those who earn more than $500,000 and other fiscal measures. He declined to say how the 17 NDP caucus members will vote on the budget bill itself.

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"But I can tell you this," he said. "New Democrats are not going to throw Ontario into an election. I don't think that's what Conservatives want. I don't think that's what the Liberals want. We certainly don't want it and I can tell you the public don't either."

The 350-page budget bill contains many measures that the New Democrats have problems with and that Mr. Bisson said need more scrutiny. For instance, he said, the bill would give the Liberals the power to create more entities like the scandal-plagued Ornge air ambulance service to handle government services. Conservation groups are urging the government to withdraw proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act in the bill that would exempt private landowners from taking measures to protect wildlife or habitat.

Liberal House Leader John Milloy said on Wednesday that he plans to table a time allocation motion next week to ensure speedy passage of the budget bill. If the NDP vote against timely passage of the bill, Mr. Milloy threatened to have the legislature sit until midnight every evening and extend the session into the summer months.

Mr. Bisson said the Liberals need to understand that there are three parties in the legislature. If they all work together, they can reach an agreement, he said.

"This government is so used to using time allocation they think there's no other way to govern," he said.

Progressive Conservative MPP Peter Shurman also said Mr. McGuinty and Mr. Duncan have to cooperate with the opposition.

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"The Liberals spent eight years with significant majorities and did whatever they pleased, and now they can't do whatever they please and they're acting like whiners," Mr. Shurman told reporters.

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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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