Ontario’s Liberals have crafted a budget designed to win support from the third-party New Democrats and avoid a trip to the polls in the immediate future.
The 2013 budget bill, which was tabled by Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa in the Legislature Thursday afternoon captured many of the major items the NDP had been talking about in recent weeks.
“I’m hard pressed to see why we’d have an election over this,” Niagara Falls Liberal MPP Kim Craitor told Bullet News shortly after the Legislature adjourned for the day.
“I just don’t see something in this budget that’s so bad that you’d want to spend $95 million to have an election,” he added.
By contrast, Craitor said he sees plenty of things in the budget that he likes, particularly those initiatives meant to reduce the youth unemployment rate.
“I think we’ve come up with a very good budget that touches everyone in Ontario,” said Craitor.
Among the initiatives highlighted in the budget include plans to:
- establish a “Youth Jobs Strategy” – $295 million over two years to create jobs and mentorship opportunities for about 30,000 youth;
- spend more on infrastructure for public transit, roads, bridges, hospitals and schools;
- reduce auto insurance rates by 15 per cent on average;
- helping 46,000 more people receive home and community care in a more timely fashion;
- increase the Employer Health Tax exemption from $400,000 to $450,000 of payroll;
- Taking steps to transform social assistance with the goal of helping more recipients find jobs and improve their financial security.
The government says it’s continuing to chip away at its annual budget deficit and remains on target to balance the books by 2017-2018. In fact, the Liberals are now projecting a $500-million surplus in that year.
Ontario NDP leader Ontario Horwath said in a statement the Liberal budget embraces some of the proposals put forward by her party earlier this year, but lacks firm commitments and timelines for implementation.
For now, they’ll take a wait-and-see approach. That will include soliciting feedback from the public.
“We will be consulting with Ontarians, because families need to have their say on this Budget, and how to make it work for them,” said Horwath.
“We want to bring accountability to this budget and ensure that public dollars won’t be wasted like they were on eHealth, Ornge and the gas plants. We will be talking to Ontarians about how we can put guarantees in place so that people know that money is being spent prudently and responsibly on the priorities that matter to them.”
As expected, the Progressive Conservatives didn’t wait long to give the Liberal budget a thumbs down.
“Too many people in Ontario are having trouble finding work and losing hope in our great province,” Tory leader Tim Hudak said in a statement issued immediately after the budget was tabled.
“Yet today the Liberal Government chose to continue down a path that will only dig the hole deeper for Ontarians.”
Hudak says Liberal budget increases spending and debt, thus hurting job creation.
Instead, Hudak said a PC government would take steps to rein in spending and “fix” labour laws in a bid to put more people back to work.
“We have a choice to make between continuing down the same path that has us struggling to keep up, or to take a new path that surges ahead toward a strong, confident and prosperous Ontario,” Hudak added.
Hudak has scheduled a conference call with Niagara-area media for Friday to answer questions related to the budget.
Last year’s budget – the last put forward by former premier Dalton McGuinty – was a tough one to swallow for many Liberal backbenchers, including Craitor.
That budget cancelled the slots-at-race-tracks program, threatening the existence of the Fort Erie Race Track and many other in Ontario, and set the stage for months of confrontation with the province’s public elementary and secondary teachers.
Since being sworn in earlier this year, Premier Kathleen Wynne attempted, with varying degrees of success, to mend fences with both the teachers and the horse-racing industry.
Wynne’s budget is much more reflective of style of the new government, which has committed to greater consultation both inside and outside of caucus before major decisions are made, Craitor said.
“I’m much more comfortable with this budget,” Craitor added.
(This story is in development. Please check back later for updates, including more local reaction.)