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Tensions over Ontario budget bill sour Liberal-NDP relations

Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan is scrummed by the media after the 2012 provincial budget vote at Queen's Park in Toronto on April 24, 2012.

Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Ontario voters no longer face the spectre of a snap election.

Finance Minister Dwight Duncan took the threat of an election off the table on Tuesday, saying the minority Liberal government's fiscal plan can be executed now that the budget bill has emerged from two days of clause-by-clause debate "relatively intact."

The 327-page omnibus bill is set to go to a vote in the legislature on Wednesday. The bill is all but assured of passing into law, following a series of amendments made to it during debate at the finance committee.

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But the budget bill has left relations between the Liberals and the opposition parties in tatters, leaving it unclear how the minority parliament will function when the legislature resumes sitting in the fall.

Mr. Duncan had harsh words for both the Progressive Conservatives and the New Democrats during a news conference. But he aimed his most pointed criticisms at NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, accusing her of breaking a verbal accord with Premier Dalton McGuinty to prop up his government.

"The NDP failed to realize that a deal really is a deal," Mr. Duncan said.

He said it is not the Premier who is at fault for not getting the accord in writing with Ms. Horwath.

"A person's word is their word," he said.

NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson accused the government during a separate news conference of unnecessarily bringing Ontarians "to the brink" of an election.

"We live in a thing called a democracy," Mr. Bisson said. "A democracy allows members of the assembly to put forward amendments on bills."

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He said Ms. Horwath kept her word to Mr. McGuinty by negotiating amendments to the budget bill, including a new tax on the rich and a freeze on corporate taxes, while making it clear her party would table further proposed changes during clause-by-clause debate.

Mr. McGuinty threatened last week to call a snap election if the budget bill was not adopted in its entirety. The bill, he said, provides the foundation for his government's fiscal plan, including staying on track to eliminate the province's $15-billion deficit by 2017-18.

He left the province teetering on the brink of an election after Tory members on the finance committee took everyone by surprise by voting together with the NDP to strike out entire sections of the budget bill during clause-by-clause debate last Thursday.

Ms. Horwath, who has consistently promised to help the government pass its budget, said on  Monday that her party would vote against only four sections in the budget bill, all dealing with labour arbitration, during clause-by-clause debate this week. Her party had initially planned to vote against 13 sections.

With the support of the Tory members, who voted against the arbitration sections for different reasons, these measures were deleted from the bill. The government was also forced to narrow down its privatization plans in the bill to just ServiceOntario, the entity that delivers birth certificates and driver's licence renewals.

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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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