Ontario’s New Democrats have hardened their demands from Premier Kathleen Wynne a day after the provincial budget, telling the government it must build measurable targets into its fiscal plan.
Ms. Wynne’s minority Liberals gave the left-wing party nearly everything it asked for in the budget, with promises to slash auto-insurance premiums by 15 per cent, pump money into home care and increase benefits for welfare recipients. But NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Ms. Wynne has to put mechanisms in the budget to ensure the new spending actually meets the NDP’s goals.
For instance, she wants guarantees that the insurance cut will take place within a year and that the new home-care dollars will cut waiting times down to five days. Ms. Horwath also wants additional oversight of government spending, such as by giving the provincial ombudsman the power to investigate more government departments.
“What we’ve seen is a budget that reflects some of the things that we’ve asked for,” she said Friday. “But what we don’t see is any real accountability to achieve those things.”
The NDP has set up a website and a toll-free number where people can tell the party which of its proposals they favour; the party will spend several days gathering data from these.
New Democrats will also spend the next week or so going through the budget line by line to understand exactly how each of the Liberals’ proposals will work, and deciding whether to support the plan.
As of Friday, the two parties had not held any formal meetings and Ms. Horwath had yet to speak to the Premier since the budget was tabled.
Negotiations are expected to begin in the next week or two. Liberal and NDP sources said the talks will likely take place between high-level staff in the two leaders’ offices. They would also include each party’s government house leaders, who meet regularly to sort out procedural matters in the legislature. Finance Minister Charles Sousa and NDP finance critic Michael Prue are also expected to play a role.
The Premier and the NDP Leader could also meet personally, especially as negotiations reach a conclusion.
The first test will be a vote on the budget motion, which must happen before the end of the month. If the government survives that vote, the budget will be referred to committee for amendments before it comes back to the legislature.
The final vote could happen as early as June, but the government can delay it until the fall.
The NDP will have several chances to change the budget. Either the party could persuade the government to alter the spending document before the budget motion, or it could make changes at committee.
Ms. Wynne signalled Friday that she is open to some retooling in the budget, but will only go so far.
“We’ve found a lot of common ground. We’ve addressed [the NDP’s] issues in the budget,” she said. “So from my perspective, there may be some tweaks, there may be some small changes, but the reality is that this is not the beggining of negotiations on this. … This is a budget that I believe hits the right note.”
The Liberals do not want an election and, with the Progressive Conservatives pledging for months to vote against the budget, must secure Ms. Horwath’s backing to continue governing.