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Sorbara meets NDP's Marchese for coffee and Ontario budget talks

Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, left, and Premier Dalton McGuinty, arrive before Mr. Duncan delivered the budget in the Legislature at Queen's Park in Toronto on March 27, 2012.

Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Greg Sorbara, a long-time Liberal MPP and confidant of Premier Dalton McGuinty, made a special trip on Sunday afternoon to a coffee shop in the midtown Toronto riding of Trinity-Spadina.

Mr. Sorbara travelled from his riding of Vaughan, north of the city, to meet Rosario Marchese on his home turf. He wanted to talk to the New Democratic Party MPP for the riding about what it might take to save the minority Liberal government and avoid a snap election.

With the fate of the government hanging in the balance over the budget tabled last week, Mr. Sorbara reached out to Mr. Marchese, someone he describes as "eminently reasonable" and "very thoughtful."

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"Rosario and I have always had a close relationship," Mr. Sorbara said in an interview. "In the midst of this issue, we've had a number of chit chats as to where the landing might take place."

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak's outright rejection of the budget has left the party that came third in the last election with the power to decide whether the government stands or falls. The one-hour meeting between Mr. Sorbara and Mr. Marchese over tea and espresso at the Faema Café was among a series of behind-the-scenes talks that began over the weekend and that will continue throughout this week.

NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson said he plans to meet with John Milloy, his Liberal counterpart, this week to determine where there is room for agreement between the two parties. The New Democrats feel strongly that the Liberals are trying to erase the province's $15.3-billion deficit on the backs of lower-income families.

"This is not going to be a shopping list of a whole bunch of new spending, but there has to be an equity in how we balance the budget," Mr. Bisson said in an interview.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath had her first opportunity to formally respond to the budget in the legislature on Monday. Instead of tabling specific changes in return for her party's support, she gave the Liberals an earful about what she is hearing from Ontarians. Families, she said, are confronted with a budget that leaves them falling further behind.

"They're not happy with the budget," Ms. Horwath told reporters. "It puts a big burden on everyday folks."

The Liberals and New Democrats are setting the stage for a game of political chicken, with Mr. McGuinty refusing to put more money on the table and Ms. Horwath saying she won't support the budget unless changes are made.

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Mr. McGuinty set the tone for the negotiations on Friday, when he said he is "eager" to talk to the New Democrats about any "constructive" suggestions they might have, as long as they do not involve more money.

"If you come to us with any new spending, that's not on," Mr. McGuinty told reporters. "If you come to us with anything that's going to delay the day on which we balance our budget beyond 2017-18, that's not on."

NDP insiders questioned whether the Liberals are just posturing by not going into the talks with an open mind. By drawing "a line in the sand," they said, the government is setting an adversarial tone that will not be helpful to any meaningful discussions.

For his part, Mr. Sorbara said he was looking for a clear determination from Ms. Horwath on whether her party will support the budget. He knows with "absolute certainty," he said, that 90 per cent of Ontarians are in no mood to go to the polls.

"The party that is seen to have thrown this province into an election is going to pay a very heavy price," he said.

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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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