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queen’s park

Premier Kathleen Wynne has summoned NDP Leader Andrea Horwath to a meeting at her Queen's Park office Thursday morning as talks over Ontario's budget kick up a notch. With the Progressive Conservatives gunning for a spring election, Ms. Wynne must secure the third party's support for her minority government to survive.

Ms. Horwath has laid out a pointed list of demands and said she must see monetary commitments attached to them if Ms. Wynne wants her backing on the budget, likely to be tabled next month.

The Liberal administration has been analyzing the requests and, so far, none have been ruled out, a government source said.

The NDP shopping list includes some policies the Liberals are already moving on, such as slashing waiting times for people requiring home care and allowing welfare recipients to keep more of their benefits when they return to work.

Other items, however, may prove more difficult. The NDP has demanded a 15-per-cent cut to auto-insurance premiums, a move that has been vigorously opposed by the industry. The party also wants to see some corporate tax credits scrapped.

The two sides took contrasting approaches ahead of the meeting. While the Liberals quietly left the sitdown off Ms. Wynne's public itinerary and played down its significance, the NDP announced it and said Ms. Horwath would brief reporters afterward.

Liberal officials said Ms. Wynne is simply keeping the lines of communication open and a firm budget deal is likely not imminent.

Ms. Horwath, meanwhile, has vowed to negotiate publicly and not to make any demands behind closed doors. NDP insiders say the party is trying to avoid a repeat of messy budget talks last year, when both sides apparently came away with a different understanding of what was agreed to.

The Liberals accused the NDP of breaking the 2012 deal by voting down portions of the budget during committee hearings; New Democrats, for their part, said they had only agreed not to topple the government, but were still free to amend the budget.

Ms. Wynne has taken a more collegial approach than her predecessor, Dalton McGuinty, and has previously sat down with Ms. Horwath and PC Leader Tim Hudak.

She incorporated some themes from Ms. Horwath's demands into last month's Throne Speech, but the NDP Leader said the talk must be backed up with dollars. The Thursday meeting is their first since then.