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Ontario NDP makes its budget demands firm

Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath. is seen in her office in Toronto, Ont., on Nov. 14, 2012.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath took a hard line with Premier Kathleen Wynne Thursday when the pair sat down to discuss the third party's requests for the upcoming budget. If the minority Liberals want to avoid an election, Ms. Horwath said, they cannot simply make general policy concessions to the NDP, but must meet the party's specific demands.

Among other things, the NDP is looking for a 15 per cent cut to auto insurance premiums and a guarantee no one will have to wait more than five days to start receiving home care.

"I was very clear with the Premier: 'Don't think that this is a matter of trying to find other ways of achieving what we've put on the table,' " Ms. Horwath said following the sit-down. "The premier was clear on what we wanted to see."

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The NDP's tough stance leaves Ms. Wynne very little wiggle room.

Government officials have said they hoped to satisfy Ms. Horwath by taking action on some of her areas of concern – such as by putting more money into home care and cracking down on insurance fraud in hopes of eventually lowering premiums. But Ms. Horwath made clear this will not be enough for her party.

Both sides are wary of one another, wanting to avoid a repeat of last year, when their budget deal nearly broke down. Ms. Horwath has said she will negotiate in public, while the Liberals are using a different, more consultative process in crafting this year's budget.

The government is said to be taking the NDP's demands seriously and have not ruled any of them out.

The Liberals already face a difficult task in bringing down a budget that deals with the province's nearly $12-billion deficit without hurting the economy.

The NDP says the items on its wish list can be paid for by cracking down on companies that avoid paying taxes and capping the salaries of top public executives. But some in the government are skeptical of the NDP's numbers, such as a $30-million price tag for the home care guarantee.

Both sides said the 20-minute meeting, which Ms. Wynne requested, was cordial.

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Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak, meanwhile, met with the premier on Wednesday. He described the tete-a-tete as a "good exchange of ideas," but said he had not changed his mind about voting down her government.

"It's clear that her plan is to move in the direction that the NDP wants in this province," he said. "I want to see an Ontario that's leading Canada, not at the back of the pack. I think the only way to do so, I'm increasingly convinced, is to change the team that leads this province."

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