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Interim Ontario NDP Leader Peter Tabuns speaks to the media at Queens Park, in Toronto, on June 29.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

The new interim leader of Ontario’s New Democrats said Wednesday that he hopes his political experience and commitment to the party will help them act as an effective Opposition to Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives during the NDP’s hunt for a permanent leader.

Peter Tabuns, who has represented the Toronto-Danforth riding since 2006, said Wednesday that he’s not seeking to permanently replace Andrea Horwath after she stepped down on election night.

He’s also remaining neutral on questions facing the NDP such as the best qualities for its new leader and how and when the leadership contest should run, saying his focus in the role will be on fighting for the party’s priorities in the immediate future.

“I’m very committed to the party, I’m very committed to the sorts of changes that I think Ontario needs around environment, around health care, around education,” Tabuns said at a news conference the day after he was named interim leader.

“I think that I bring a lot of experience that will allow us to be effective in opposition during this period and I want to make sure that the party is in good shape for the new leader to take over and really drive things forward.”

The party has yet to determine the rules and election date for its leadership contest that will choose Horwath’s successor. Those details had been expected to come Tuesday night along with the announcement of Tabuns’s election as interim leader, but he said procedural debate took longer than expected and finer points will be hashed out a yet-to-be-scheduled meeting.

“Well, we’re New Democrats. We debate just about everything,” he said. “When we get back to round two on this we’ll get into more substance.”

Both the Liberals and New Democrats are seeking to fill leadership voids after leaders of both parties stepped down on the night of June 2 when Premier Doug Ford’s Tory government was re-elected with an even larger majority than in its first term.

Some NDP caucus members have said they are considering possible leadership bids to replace Horwath, who led the party from 2009 until this month, including Kitchener Centre’s Laura Mae Lindo, Marit Stiles who represents Davenport, and Wayne Gates of Niagara Falls.

Tabuns said he will be looking into appointing a shadow cabinet “over the next week or so.” Typically leadership candidates don’t hold critic portfolios but the party may have to name people to positions and make changes as members officially declare their intentions to run for leader, he said.

Representatives from all parties will be at the legislature in the near future to vote on the provincial budget, which wasn’t passed before the spring election began.

Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy said the timeline for reintroducing the budget, including some tweaks to the original document, would be discussed at the government’s first cabinet meeting held in-person since the election.

“We’re excited to get back to work, get things done,” he said on the way into the meeting.

One expected change is a plan to raise support for the Ontario Disability Support Program support. The Tories promised that change mid-election but Bethlenfalvy wouldn’t say Wednesday if the government would stick to its proposed five per cent increase or a higher one given the rate of inflation.

Bethlenfalvy said the government has “a lot of things in our tool box” to fight the rising cost of living and the ODSP bump is one of them.

Most cabinet ministers didn’t respond to media questions on their way into the cabinet meeting.

Tabuns said the NDP will be fighting for changes to the budget — even though the government will likely easily pass it with its majority of voting members. He said the budget in its initial form didn’t do enough to help people with the rising costs of housing or tackle education and health-care challenges.

“It was a bad budget when it was introduced. It’s going backwards, I think it’s going to hurt people,” he said.

“We’re going to fight the damage to people in Ontario, and we’re going to take every opportunity to do it. I don’t see why we would do anything different. Frankly, people expect it of us and we expect to do it.”

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