Kathleen Wynne is outlining an ambitious program of progressive legislation and daring Andrea Horwath to trigger a snap election over it. On Tuesday, the start of the new legislative session, the Ontario Premier promised to swiftly table bills that would set up a new provincial pension system, create a perpetually increasing minimum wage and dedicate funds for subway and light-rail construction.
Ms. Wynne even opened the door to talks on the most contentious elements of her plan – including tax hikes to pay for transit – forcing the NDP Leader to choose between propping up the Liberal government or voting against a raft of left-leaning policies to bring it down.
And the Premier took the offensive against the New Democrat, accusing her of having no ideas on any of these files.
“She doesn’t talk about investments in transit. She doesn’t talk about the need for us to have infrastructure built in this province. She doesn’t talk about the need for retirement security for people in the province,” Ms. Wynne said at Queen’s Park. “Ms. Horwath does not talk about what she stands for. She talks about what she will not support.”
With the Liberals holding only a minority of seats in the assembly, they must get the backing of at least one other party to pass a budget this spring and avoid a general election. With Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak eager to go to the polls, it will be up to Ms. Horwath to decide if the government lives or dies.
On Tuesday, Ms. Horwath wouldn’t support Ms. Wynne’s plan to raise the minimum wage to $11 and tie future increases to inflation or her proposal for a new pension system that would give Ontario retirees another cheque on top of the Canada Pension Plan. Asked repeatedly for her position on either subject, Ms. Horwath would not say.
She would only reiterate that the NDP will vote against any legislation that funds transit using taxes or tolls that average people must pay.
“We will not support new taxes fees or tolls on middle-class households,” she said.
Privately, the Liberals are already cool to the idea of raising sales or gas taxes to pay for transit. They have discussed debt financing as a way to reduce the amount of money needed up front, which would in turn help avoid a major tax increase.
And publicly, Ms. Wynne sounded ready to craft a transit plan the NDP could support, leaving the door open to any options – including making corporations pay for transit construction, an approach Ms. Horwath favours.
“I understand that people are pushed, so we are going to do this in the fairest way possible,” Ms. Wynne said. “We have not landed on a tool or a particular way of generating revenue.”
She invited both Ms. Horwath and Mr. Hudak to budget talks.
Ms. Horwath has cut deals with the Liberals through the past two budgets, but she has taken an increasingly hard line in recent weeks. Last month, the NDP began accusing Ms. Wynne of not living up to her end of the bargain on last year’s budget.
Mr. Hudak, for his part, has been gunning for an election for the past year, and he reiterated his stand Tuesday.
“We need change in this province – I’ve said that over and over again,” he said. “And I don’t think the Liberals are going to bring change.”
Instead of trying to strike a budget deal, he proposed legislation – the “Million Jobs Act” – which would cut taxes and increase job training in a bid to drive down the province’s unemployment rate.