An attempt by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Opposition Leader Tim Hudak to forge a legislative deal has come to a stalemate.
At a meeting Wednesday, sources said, Ms. Wynne asked for Mr. Hudak’s help getting several government bills through the legislature. The Progressive Conservative Leader responded with a series of proposals of his own – including a judicial inquiry into the Liberals’ costly cancellations of two gas-fired power plants – and the two sides made little headway.
The Premier is pushing several relatively non-contentious bills, including a ban on tanning bed use for Ontarians under the age of 18, legislation to promote local food and help farmers, and measures to get consumers better mobile phone contracts. While most of these measures have the support of all three parties in principle, the Liberals say they need opposition assistance to make sure the bills do not get held up in the House.
On Thursday, Mr. Hudak said Ms. Wynne’s legislative priorities are too narrow.
“I see a focus from the Premier around a lot of small ball. What we need is fundamental change,” he said. “We need a big-picture change to get our economy back on track and spend within our means.”
A Conservative source said that, during the meeting, Mr. Hudak asked Ms. Wynne to reform the province’s arbitration system, which currently favours public-sector unions and can prove costly for municipal governments, and to impose a moratorium on the construction of wind turbines, among other ideas.
Mr. Hudak also reiterated his call for a judicial inquiry into the gas plants. Under his plan, the inquiry would be ordered to report back before the next election campaign, and its terms of reference would be written by all three parties. A legislative committee is already probing the cancellations – which cost the treasury at least $585-million – but the Tories argue an inquiry could go further.
The Tory source said Ms. Wynne seemed to expect the PCs to agree to her agenda before she would address theirs. Mr. Hudak, for his part, asked Ms. Wynne to discuss his proposals before he would commit to backing hers. A government source said Mr. Hudak would not agree to help the Liberals push forward their bills until Ms. Wynne agreed to support at least one of his ideas.
Despite the impasse, sources in both parties described the meeting as cordial.
Liberals sounded optimistic they would get their agenda through. Deputy Premier Deb Matthews pointed to several measures, including the tanning bed bill and legislation to create an independent budget watchdog, that have unanimously passed second reading in the last week.
“We’ve actually had some luck in the last few days,” she said after Question Period Thursday. “I’m seeing signs of hope that we can actually move things forward.”
Ms. Wynne is also scheduled to sit down with NDP Leader Andrea Horwath on Monday afternoon.
Ms. Horwath said she was ready to work something out. “When we say that there’s legislation that everyone agrees on, we’re prepared to work on it and get it passed,” she said. “If the Premier’s serious about getting things done, I know that we are.”