Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan acknowledges that the Liberal caucus is divided over the New Democrats' tax-the-rich proposal as the countdown begins on a confidence vote on the budget.
The minority Liberal government could fall as early as next Tuesday, when all three parties vote on the budget motion. Liberal House Leader John Milloy announced at a hastily-called news conference on Monday that the vote will take place on April 24 - the very last day under the legislature's standing orders.
The Liberals are in talks with the New Democratic Party aimed at saving their government. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has called for a new tax bracket for people who earn more than $500,000 a year. Such a measure would raise revenues of $570-million, Ms. Horwath has said, money that can be spent on additional day-care spaces and giving electricity consumers a break on their home heating bills.
"I think it's fair to say opinion within our group is divided on that issue," Mr. Duncan said in an interview. "It has a certain appeal politically, no question. But as leaders we have to look beyond that."
Mr. Duncan demurred when asked where he personally stands on the issue, one that has widespread public support in the wake of the Occupy movement. But he reiterated Premier Dalton's McGuinty's message that the Liberals do not want to raise taxes just to increase spending.
Ontario needs to ensure that its system for taxing individuals and corporations is competitive with other regions, Mr. Duncan said. Otherwise, he said, there is a risk that businesses and entrepreneurs could relocate to other provinces with lower taxes.
"One-offs tend to skew the tax system and make people who are mobile with their capital look at other lower tax jurisdictions," he said.
Mr. Duncan made himself available for a rare Sunday interview to complain that the Progressive Conservatives are trying to force a snap election just six months after voters went to the polls. He said the Tories spent the weekend organizing nominating meetings for candidates.
It was a message that Mr. Milloy repeated at Monday's news conference.
"The opposition need to be held to account," Mr. Milloy said. "They may be forcing an election that nobody wants."
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said on Monday that interest costs on the provincial debt will surge by $5.3-billion between 2011 and 2017. This is a result, he said, "of an irresponsible Liberal government and budget, which no amount of tinkering will fix."
Mr. Hudak said just hours after Mr. Duncan tabled the budget last March 27 that his party will vote against it. As a result, Ms. Horwath holds all the political cards in Ontario and has set out a number of proposals in return for her party's support.
Mr. McGuinty said in Question Period on Monday that his "one overriding concern" is the costs associated with the NDP's proposals, which he earlier pegged at $1-billion. The government cannot increase spending when it is facing a $15.3-billion deficit, he said.
The NDP has countered that its proposals do not involve new spending.
"The Premier knows very well that the NDP proposals will not add one red cent to the deficit," Ms. Horwath said in Question Period. "But they will add fairness to the budget."