The Ontario legislature has passed Premier Kathleen Wynne’s ambitious budget, capping several gruelling months for the provincial government.
The document is Ms. Wynne’s bid to make a definitive mark on the province. It pumps money into public transit construction and some social programs, and sets up a massive new pension plan, while also curbing spending in other areas in a bid to wrestle down the deficit.
“I like to set hard-to-achieve goals, but that is how we get the best results,” she told reporters shortly after the assembly approved the spending plan by a 56-37 margin Thursday and recessed until Oct. 20. “I’ve often been underestimated, but that just motivates me all the more.”
The government has been firing on all cylinders since early spring, with the Liberals preparing the sprawling budget and all parties ramping up for an election. Finance Minister Charles Sousa first presented the document in the legislature May 1. It was promptly rejected by the NDP, triggering the June 12 vote that returned Ms. Wynne with a majority government.
The opposition criticized the budget from both sides Thursday. Progressive Conservative finance critic Vic Fedeli derided it as a “tax and spend” plan for hiking levies on airplane fuel to pay for transit expansion. New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath, meanwhile, called it a “Trojan horse,” with painful cuts hidden beneath the ambitious new programs.
But for the most part, all three parties were simply eager to get out of Queen’s Park for the summer. Question Period on Thursday had a rowdy, last-day-of-school feel, with MPPs trading jokes and one-liners across the floor.
After Tory John Yakabuski delivered a particularly theatrical speech accusing the government of curtailing an investigation into the cancellations of two gas-fired power plants, Ms. Wynne jokingly commended his performance as being “worthy of Perry Mason” and the entire Liberal caucus gave him an ovation. At another point, as Ms. Wynne accused the NDP of campaigning on the very spending cuts Ms. Horwath is now railing against, Liberal MPP Jim Bradley made slashing motions with an imaginary scythe in the direction of the New Democrat benches.
Even Speaker Dave Levac, himself a former school principal, had trouble keeping a straight face while scolding out-of-order MPPs.
With the legislature risen, MPPs will have time to catch their breath and turn their attention to other pressing matters.
The PCs are doing some soul-searching after losing the election and, Mr. Fedeli said, he will spend time this summer meeting with rank-and-file members. Tories “shot ourselves in the foot” by running on a platform that included axing 100,000 public-sector jobs, he said.
“We need to talk to the members and talk about what happened. We can’t hide from that. We owe some apologies to people right across the province,” he said. “We let them down.”
Ms. Horwath, who is trying to mend fences with party members upset she abandoned ambitious policy for small-ball populism during the campaign, also pledged to tour the province during the break.
“I am looking to getting out to Ontario,” she said. “The leader of a political party never rests.”
Mr. Sousa said he planned to take a few days off to spend with his children before knuckling down and implementing the budget.
“Yes, it’s been a long process,” he said. “This is a very comprehensive budget, and any one of its pieces could be a budget in itself … but we recognize how important it is to plan years ahead. This is a 10-year plan.”
Ms. Wynne, meanwhile, said she would spend Friday morning picking raspberries with her granddaughter, and then promptly get back to work.
She faces a tough slog ahead – including negotiations with public-sector unions, hard decisions on what to cut to balance the books and setting up the pension plan. And the Premier acknowledged all this will be at least as hard as the arduous months that led up to the budget’s final approval.
“The momentary glee at the passage of the budget is just that,” she said. “The implementation of this budget will be difficult … governing is not an easy activity, but that’s not the objective, to have a life or a government that does easy things. For me, the objective is to do important things.”