Ontario's cash-strapped Liberals are freezing welfare and delaying planned increases to the Ontario Child Benefit in Tuesday's budget to help slay a $16-billion deficit.
Social assistance, which includes Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program, will be frozen for a year, Premier Dalton McGuinty announced Sunday.
The child benefit was supposed to rise from the current $1,100 a year per child to $1,310 a year in July 2013. Instead, it will be increased more gradually — “in a more affordable way” — to $1,210 in 2013 and $1,310 in 2014, Mr. McGuinty said.
The one-year delay will save about $90 million next year, according to the government.
“Others would make different choices,” Mr. McGuinty said, noting that the previous Progressive Conservative government cut welfare by 22 per cent.
“We are not prepared to balance this budget on the backs of families who may find themselves in difficult circumstances for the time being, or on the backs of our children.”
But that's exactly what the minority Liberals are doing, both opposition parties said.
The New Democrats, who oppose the measures, wouldn't say whether it's a dealbreaker for them. NDP support for the budget is crucial for the minority Liberals to avoid an election, as the Progressive Conservatives have already signalled that they'll oppose the budget.
“We're going to have to really look at everything that this government is proposing and making that decision as a caucus,” said New Democrat Michael Mantha.
“Basically, we want to see life being a little bit more affordable for everyday families, and this is going to make it that much harder for them to meet those bills at the end of the month.”
Mr. McGuinty said he hopes the NDP will still support the budget, which will contain other measures that the third party will be able to support.
“This has been my toughest budget by far, because it confronts a deficit which we must necessarily eliminate over time for all the right reasons,” he said.
If Mr. McGuinty isn't going to follow through with economist Don Drummond's advice to freeze the child benefit, he needs to put something else on the chopping block, which he hasn't done, said Tory finance critic Peter Shurman.
“If he's serious about actually wanting to attack the deficit, stop the drip, drip, drip, drip,” Mr. Shurman said. “Stop sitting on the backs of people who are the least capable of defending themselves and man up.”
On Friday, the Liberals announced plans to wind down the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission — a move that could affect hundreds of workers in the north — and sell eight government buildings to free up more cash.
They also shut down slot machines at racetracks in Fort Erie, Sarnia and Windsor, throwing 560 people out of work.