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New Democrat Wayne Gates, the newly elected Ontario Member of Provincial Parliament for Niagara Falls, right, is congratulated on his by-election victory by Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath at a victory party in Niagara Falls, Ont., Thursday, February 13, 2014. (Aaron Lynett/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
New Democrat Wayne Gates, the newly elected Ontario Member of Provincial Parliament for Niagara Falls, right, is congratulated on his by-election victory by Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath at a victory party in Niagara Falls, Ont., Thursday, February 13, 2014. (Aaron Lynett/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Horwath cranks up pressure on Wynne, but mum on forcing election Add to ...

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is accusing the province’s Liberal government of failing to implement last year’s budget deal with her party, just weeks before she will have to decide whether to negotiate another budget or trigger a general election.

The morning after wresting the riding of Niagara Falls from the Grits in a by-election, Ms. Horwath came out swinging, reading a long list of grievances with Premier Kathleen Wynne’s administration.

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“For families across Ontario, it seems like the Liberal government just doesn’t seem interested in implementing the change that Ontario needs,” she said. “While news of plant closures across Ontario have left people looking for work around the province, the government insists that the same old ideas that have not worked for a decade will somehow start working. They won’t.”

Last year, she backed the Liberals’ budget in exchange for a series of policy concessions, including a 15-per-cent reduction in auto insurance and the creation of a new budget watchdog agency. Her support for that spending plan allowed the Grits to avoid a snap election. But she said Ms. Wynne has been too slow to put those NDP policies into place.

Ms. Wynne controls only a minority of seats in the legislature, and must receive the support of at least one other party to pass a budget. With the Progressive Conservatives determined to vote the government down, it is up to Ms. Horwath whether Ms. Wynne’s administration lives.

But when asked directly if her attacks on the Liberals meant she would force an early vote, Ms. Horwath refused to say.

“I’m not going to be spending time talking about whether or not we’re going to be in an election, whether or not we’re going to be having that election this spring,” she said.

PC Leader Tim Hudak blamed his party’s narrow loss in Niagara Falls on the province’s unions, whom he accused of flooding the riding with members who campaigned for the NDP.

“Give me a level playing field in Niagara Falls, we win that seat. It’s a PC seat. But when you give that oversized influence to big labour, they buy influence with members,” he said.

The Conservative Leader emerged stronger from Thursday’s votes, which saw his party hold on to suburban Thornhill and come within a thousand votes of taking Niagara Falls.

He has faced internal dissent over his anti-union positions, with some party members afraid it will cost the party votes in blue-collar ridings like Niagara Falls. But Mr. Hudak seemed to take his strong result as proof his hardline stance is working: he redoubled his attacks on trade unions Friday, rolling out a website that slams unions for engaging in political activities.

“There’s no doubt that one of the main reasons Ontario is having trouble attracting new investment is because of the oversized influence of big labour on government decisions,” he said. “It’s put us deeper in debt.”

Such language could be a harbinger of things to come in the general election, and a sign that Mr. Hudak is not backing off his strategy of using strongly conservative policies to give right-leaning voters good reason to come to the polls.

Premier Kathleen Wynne, meanwhile, shrugged off the results of the by-elections, where her party went zero for two. The votes were just a consequence-free way for people to punish the government, she said, and would not be repeated in the general.

“I think if you look at the history of by-elections in various governments’ terms, you’ll see that by-elections are their own creatures, they don’t necessarily foreshadow anything about the future,” she said. “Everyone in Thornhill and Niagara Falls knew that the votes that they cast were not going to change the government.”

Follow on Twitter: @adrianmorrow

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