A week after Ontario’s budget was tabled, Andrea Horwath can’t say what specifically will decide whether her New Democrats support it, or when exactly that final decision will be made.
In an interview on Thursday, Ms. Horwath said she believes there is a “mixed bag of sentiment” among voters about whether they want an election this spring, and said her party’s choice will be based on whether Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals have “learned their lesson” from the controversy around power-plant cancellations and other scandals.
The NDP Leader defended her decision to not have a conversation with the Premier, which she has declined to do since mid-March, until after she finishes her post-budget “consultations” early next week. “I’m happy to sit down with Kathleen Wynne once I’ve had a chance to talk with Ontarians,” she said.
Ms. Horwath began this week to make new demands for accountability measures, after the budget addressed previous requests on matters ranging from auto insurance costs to the creation of a youth employment fund. She will propose related changes to the health-care system on Friday, after telling reporters on Wednesday that she wants an independent financial accountability office.
In the interview, she did not say whether the refusal of any of the new requests would cause her party to join with Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives in bringing down the Liberals, nor did she guarantee that their adoption would assure the government’s survival.
The New Democrats could seek to make further changes to the budget bill when it comes before legislative committee, Ms. Horwath said, despite similar efforts a year ago having surprised the Liberals and nearly led to an election then.
“We always reserve rights to take amendments to a bill,” she said. “Bills can always be improved.”
Under mounting pressure to tip her hand one way or the other, Ms. Horwath described as “time well invested” her efforts to gauge the public’s mood.
“Our job in this budget process is to actually get a sense of where Ontarians are at,” she said, “not to simply wrap things up with a tidy little bow because the Premier wants it that way.”
Ms. Wynne has displayed some degree of openness to the proposal for a new budgetary officer, similar to the one that exists federally, but has expressed frustration over the piecemeal fashion in which the requests are being made, along with the ongoing uncertainty about whether the budget will pass.
Ms. Horwath faces competing views within her own party about the best course this spring. Sources say that there is something of a split within her 18-member caucus largely along geographic lines, with MPPs from downtown Toronto – where the Liberals will look to make gains under Ms. Wynne’s leadership – less enthused by the prospect of an election than some of their colleagues from elsewhere in the province.
Union leaders are also said to be trying to steer the NDP away from bringing down the government, for fear of Mr. Hudak winding up in the Premier’s office. Recent polls have suggested the Tories hold a narrow lead, with the Liberals having regained some support since Ms. Wynne took over their leadership this winter, and the New Democrats running third.
At the same time, the Tories have been making the public case that the credibility of the New Democrats’ attacks on the Liberals over the power plants would be compromised by letting them remain in power.
Ms. Horwath did her best on Thursday to make the case that the government’s fate is in its own hands. “Ontarians will not stand for the NDP supporting a Liberal government if the Liberal government is not prepared to be more accountable to the people,” she said.