Premier Kathleen Wynne's government has begun rolling out a series of NDP-friendly items, injecting $185-million into home care and pledging a "dramatic" cut to auto insurance premiums. The moves are designed to win New Democratic support for the minority Liberals' budget, set to drop May 2.
Liberal insiders have for months criticized NDP budget demands as unrealistic, arguing New Democrats underestimate how much it would cost to cut home-care waiting times to five days, and that it would be imprudent to slash auto-insurance rates by 15 per cent. But as the budget approaches and the government tries to avoid an election, it has begun to cede ground to the third party.
At a midtown Toronto seniors' centre Tuesday, Ms. Wynne announced $185-million to expand the province's home-care system and ensure those with the greatest needs wait no more than five days to start receiving help. An additional $75-million will fund other community health programs.
"Delivering home care is something that we have identified as a priority for a number of years – it's part of the transformation that needs to happen in health care," Ms. Wynne said.
Health Minister Deb Matthews said New Democrats should be happy with the move.
"The NDP is asking for a $30-million investment in home care. This investment is more than six times what the NDP has been asking for," she said.
The government is also just days away from laying out its plan to make auto insurance cheaper. While the Liberals will make structural changes to boost insurance industry profits, the party is expected to also use the Financial Services Commission of Ontario to ensure savings are passed on to drivers – a key part of the NDP's demand.
"We want to start establishing a direction to dramatically make those reductions go forward," Finance Minister Charles Sousa said Tuesday. "We're working with FSCO as well, and I'll have more to say in the next few days."
But even as they moved to appease the NDP, the Liberals took pains to distance themselves from the party. In the legislature, Ms. Wynne even took a direct shot at New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath.
"We will not be held hostage to a list – an arbitrary list," the Premier declared.
Ms. Horwath said she was keeping her options open and would take time to review the budget next week before deciding whether to let the government live. "These are not tough things to achieve, they're not difficult, they're not overly expensive," she said of her demands. "I'll wait and see what happens when the budget tables."
Just two days before that, Ms. Wynne will appear before a legislative committee probing her party's costly cancellation of two gas-fired power plants. The Liberals hit back Tuesday by calling for Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak to appear that same day, in an attempt to buttress the party's argument that he would also have cancelled the plants at high cost had he won office.
The committee is also expected to hear from the head of the Ontario Power Authority on the full cost of cancelling one of the plants, in Oakville, expected to be higher than the $40-million price tag previously claimed by the government.