The Ontario minority Liberal government has dodged a snap election, after a crucial vote on its budget.
The budget motion passed on Tuesday with all 52 Liberal MPPs voting in favour of it and, as widely expected, all 37 Progressive Conservatives voting against it.
But what was not expected was that the party that came third in the last election would abstain from voting, despite winning major concessions from the Liberals.
New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath said her 17 caucus members did not vote because they continue to have difficulties with the budget, including the fact that it does not do enough to create new jobs for many Ontarians out of work.
“We did what we needed to do to make this budget better,” Ms. Horwath told reporters. “We rolled up our sleeves on behalf of Ontarians to make minority government work, and we weren’t prepared to plunge Ontarians into an election most people didn’t want.”
The New Democrats hold the balance of power in the minority legislature, because the Progressive Conservatives made it clear just hours after the budget was tabled last month that they would vote against it.
The Liberals were hoping for a more emphatic endorsement from the New Democrats, especially after they agreed to many of Ms. Horwath's demands, including a new tax on the rich and more funding for day care spaces and those living on disability and social assistance.
“They’re trying to have their cake and eat it, too,” Finance Minister Dwight Duncan told reporters.
Premier Dalton McGuinty, who took the rare step of inviting the media into the Liberal caucus meeting for his opening remarks following the budget vote on Tuesday, said the new 2 per cent surtax for those earning more than $500,000 a year gives the NDP the fairness they were seeking and his party a new source of revenue, estimated at $470-million a year, to help erase the deficit sooner.
Mr. McGuinty called the accord with the NDP a “happy marriage.” And he spent much of the daily Question Period before the budget vote courting Ms. Horwath by responding directly to her questions while snubbing Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak.
It was left to Mr. Duncan to field questions from Mr. Hudak, who accused the Premier of breaking his promises to not increase taxes or increase program spending.
“Just because the Premier is so willing to toss his principles overboard doesn’t mean that we will,” Mr. Hudak said.
Mr. Duncan responded with his own nautical metaphor, saying Mr. Hudak lost his chance to influence the budget by too quickly threatening to defeat it. “The Leader of the Opposition missed the boat,” he said. “Now he’s on the dock waving frantically.”
The new surtax has widespread support from within the Liberal caucus as well as from the public, but will affect only a small number of Ontarians.
Mr. McGuinty told his caucus that the government made a strong budget even stronger by working with the New Democrats. In a minority government, he said, the budget is not about any one political party but about what’s in the best interests of all Ontarians.
“We’ve achieved our objectives, and today the people of Ontario won,” he said.
Ms. Horwath countered that the budget remains a Liberal one, and vowed to continue fighting for all the issues where she thinks it falls short, including no job-creation measures. She had pushed for a new tax break for companies that hire employees.
“What we were able to do was bring some fairness,” Ms. Horwath said.