TORONTO – Ontario won’t be plunging into an election any time soon, as the New Democrats agreed Tuesday to pass the budget and prop up the minority Liberals.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath withdrew her election threat after keeping it alive for two weeks.
The Liberals addressed the NDP’s long list of demands in the May 2 budget, but Horwath wanted more. And she got it last week when Premier Kathleen Wynne agreed to create a financial accountability office, modelled on the parliamentary budget office in Ottawa.
The NDP didn’t get everything they wanted, but the Liberals have made enough commitments to gain their support, Horwath said.
“It would have been really easy to simply say no and pull the plug and start all over again,” she said.
“But New Democrats took the harder path and worked really hard to deliver for Ontarians.”
Asked whether she might pull the trigger herself later this year, Premier Kathleen Wynne said she’s focused on getting the budget through.
“I’m going to take it one month at a time,” she said with a laugh.
“I can’t tell you what will happen three, six, eight months from now, but I’m very happy to get through this budget cycle.”
Horwath said her party will vote for the budget, rather than sitting on their hands as they did during votes on last year’s budget.
But Wynne said she still wants a “concrete agreement” in writing from Horwath about how they’ll proceed.
The budget incorporated NDP ideas to lower auto insurance premiums, as well as boost funding for home care and reduce youth unemployment.
After the budget was released, Horwath also asked for a financial accountability office, ombudsman oversight of the health-care sector and a freeze on plans to create high-occupancy toll lanes.
Wynne offered a compromise on extending the ombudsman’s authority by introducing new accountability measures across the health-care system. But she rejected the NDP’s demand on HOT lanes.
The premier did note that legislation would be needed to create the lanes, which would give the NDP and Progressive Conservatives a chance to kill the idea, since they collectively have more votes than the Liberals in the legislature.
Now that she knows where things stand, Wynne said she’ll look at setting dates for two byelections in Windsor and London. The seats were vacated in February by former cabinet ministers Dwight Duncan and Chris Bentley and the byelections must be called by Aug. 15.
Wynne will be visiting both cities this week, armed with a list of accomplishments in her first 100 days as premier, which include ending the labour war with teachers and restoring extracurricular activities for public school students.
The Tories are champing at the bit for a provincial election, having vowed to vote against the budget even before they read it.
Opposition Leader Tim Hudak slammed the NDP for backing the Liberals after criticizing them for blowing at least $585 million to cancel two gas plants — far more than what the government originally claimed.
“I don’t see how the people of the province of Ontario are served by propping up a corrupt government,” Hudak said.
But Horwath said she’s not turning a blind eye by keeping the Liberals alive, even though she’s accused them of lying to the public about the true cost of the cancellations.
An independent financial accountability office will help prevent such fiascos in the future, she said.
“When you see the scandals that are playing out this very moment at all levels of government, we know that Ontarians deserve that accountability office,” she said.
Horwath still runs the risk of having the governing party take credit for NDP ideas when they do go back to the polls.
The NDP supported the Liberals in 1985 on the condition that they implement some of their ideas. Two years later, the Liberals won by a landslide while the NDP lost seats.
“It’s not about me and my political fortunes,” Horwath said.
“I don’t believe it should be about anybody else’s political fortunes. What it should always be about is getting results for Ontarians.”