Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is reaching out to New Democratic Party Leader Horwath to salvage their on-again, off-again marriage and avoid a snap election. But this time, he wants a pre-nup in writing.
Mr. McGuinty wrote a letter to Ms. Horwath Sunday, asking her to commit in writing that she will not block passage of the budget bill when it goes to a vote on Wednesday. He is also asking her to commit in writing that her party will not vote against entire sections of the bill when clause-by-clause debate resumes Monday morning.
The letter comes 24 hours after Ms. Horwath held a news conference at Queen's Park, where she invited Mr. McGuinty and Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak to meet with her over the weekend.
But Mr. McGuinty is making no secret of the fact that he feels betrayed by Ms. Horwath, who had made a verbal pledges to prop up his minority Liberal government and support the budget bill. The Liberals struck an accord last April with the NDP by including major concessions in the bill, among them a new surtax on the rich and a freeze on corporate tax rates. Ms. Horwath pushed for the changes in return for supporting the budget.
"The good news is we have an opportunity to get the budget bill back on track," Mr. McGuinty says in his letter. "You need only ensure your caucus lives up to the agreements you have already made."
Mr. McGuinty threatened to call a snap election following clause-by-clause debate on the budget bill last Thursday. What happened during the debate came as a surprise to not only the Liberals but to the NDP and amounted to a game changer.
Mr. Hudak has said from the outset that his party plans to vote against the budget. Liberal and NDP members on the finance committee went into clause-by-clause debate expecting the Tory members on the committee to abstain from voting.
Instead, the Tories voted with the NDP to abolish entire sections of the bill. This came as a shock to the Liberals, as the Tories were voting against issues their party philosophically supports, such as proposed rules to strengthen the labour-arbitration process.
Had just the NDP members voted against entire sections of the bill as planned, there was no risk to these sections getting defeated. However, once the Tories joined forces with the NDP, the Liberals watched in dismay as their budget bill was systematically gutted. Their concern was that the voting on Thursday would set a template for the remainder of the clause-by-clause debate on Monday and Tuesday, sources said.
In a news conference on Friday, Mr. McGuinty accused Ms. Horwath of being "disingenuous," and of going back on her verbal commitment to support his government's budget bill.
"I believed – and more importantly, Ontario families clearly understood – the budget bill would pass," Mr. McGuinty says in his letter. "But to my surprise and disappointment, your party began to dismantle the very budget bill you personally agreed to see pass."
His letter says the budget bill must remain intact to provide the tools required to eliminate the province's $15-billion deficit, grow the economy and create jobs.
Mr. McGuinty also put Ms. Horwath on notice that his government intends to introduce legislation in the fall on sections of the bill that have been deleted – namely changes to the Endangered Species Act.