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Ontario Liberals, NDP find 'common ground' as budget vote looms

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is seen in this 2011 file photo.

Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty says there is "common ground" between Liberals and the New Democrats on his government's budget.

His minority Liberal government could fall as early as next Tuesday, when all three parties vote on the budget motion. But Mr. McGuinty said on Tuesday that he believes the spectre of a snap election, just six months after voters in Ontario went to the polls, is a "remote possibility."

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has tabled a number of demands in return for her support of the budget, including the creation of a new tax bracket for Ontarians who earn more than $500,000 and additional investments in day care and health care.

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Mr. McGuinty said his government's budget already contains many things that are consistent with the NDP's own priorities, including a deferral on further cuts to the corporate income tax rate and a commitment to continue funding full-day kindergarten. He said he is optimistic the two sides can reach a compromise on the changes Ms. Horwath is seeking.

"We're in the same ballpark," he told reporters during a visit to eReading company Kobo Inc. in Toronto's Liberty Village. "And I'm convinced we're going to get there."

Ms. Horwath also struck a conciliatory but somewhat cautionary tone following Question Period on Tuesday.

"The fact that we're still at the table means we're still trying to solidify that ground," she told reporters. "We're not there yet, but we're having those discussions and they're fruitful."

However, Mr. McGuinty has a major policy of his own that could end up becoming a sticking point in the talks. His government is calling on the province's teachers, doctors and other public-sector workers who bargain collectively to voluntarily freeze their wages for two years.

If labour leaders resist, the government is threatening to impose a wage freeze through legislation. In a concession to the NDP, however, the proposed legislation is not contained in the budget bill itself.

Mr. McGuinty called on Ms. Horwath to say where exactly she stands on the wage freeze. He said his government cannot eliminate the province's $15.3-billion deficit unless "we hit the pause button" on public sector pay.

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Ms. Horwath countered that there should be no doubt in the Premier's mind where she stands on the issue because there was no mention of a public sector wage freeze in her platform for last October's election campaign.

"I've been pretty clear where I stand on that issue for a long time," Ms. Horwath said.

She also criticized Mr. McGuinty for the fact that many executives of hospitals and electricity utilities have received generous increases in incentive pay over the past couple of years, despite a legislated pay freeze for public sector workers who are not part of a union.

"Let's face it, it's a failed policy," Ms. Horwath said. "It hasn't worked."

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About the Author

Karen Howlett is a national reporter based in Toronto. She returned to the newsroom in 2013 after covering Ontario politics at The Globe’s Queen’s Park bureau for seven years. Prior to that, she worked in the paper’s Vancouver bureau and in The Report on Business, where she covered a variety of beats, including financial services and securities regulation. More

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