Ontario’s New Democrats are demanding Premier Kathleen Wynne create an independent budget watchdog to track government spending.
The request is the start of a second set of demands the NDP is making of Ms. Wynne’s Liberals in exchange for supporting her budget.
The NDP’s proposed financial accountability office, modelled on the parliamentary budget officer, would be an officer of the legislature with the mandate to investigate current government spending decisions and report on how money is being used.
“We need to ensure there are no more Ornge, eHealth or gas plant scandals in this province. Something needs to bring an end to the Liberals’ free ride,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, referring to three instances in which the Liberal government spent vast amounts of money for little tangible gain. “In tough times, people need to know that public dollars are being managed responsibly. People need to know that their money isn’t going be spent willy-nilly anymore.”
A budget office, Ms. Horwath said, would ensure accountability over the long-term, no matter which party holds power.
With Ms. Wynne’s Liberals holding only a minority of seats in the legislature, they must secure the backing of another party to pass the budget and avoid an election. The Progressive Conservatives have already said they will vote against the budget, leaving the NDP as Ms. Wynne’s only option.
The NDP made a series of demands in Feburary, most of which – including cuts to auto insurance and more money for home care – the Liberals incorporated into the budget last week.
But Ms. Horwath said the government must go further. She has been using a website and a toll-free number to gather feedback on what else to demand,
She signalled that more demands will likely be coming, since her consultations will continue until the end of next week.
Premier Kathleen Wynne said the proposed budget watchdog is “interesting,” but she could not commit to implementing it until she discusses it further with Ms. Horwath.
Budget negotiations must happen all at once, she said, and cannot be a long, drawn-out process.
“It’s a problem if there is a new demand every day,” Ms. Wynne told reporters in Waterloo after meeting with a group of young entrepreneurs. “We have to look at the whole picture. It’s not going to be helpful to do this in bits and pieces.”
The Premier also seemed puzzled that Ms. Horwath is suddenly making more demands, months after presenting what was supposed to be her final list of requests.
“It would have been better to have had these discussions before [we presented the budget],” Ms. Wynne said.
The Premier’s office has repeatedly requested a meeting with Ms. Horwath, but so far the NDP has not set one up, she said.
If the NDP continues making demands until the end of next week, the Liberals will have little time to analyze them and make decisions. The first vote on the budget must take place by the end of this month.