Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has rejected the NDP's demand to put a one-year time frame on cuts to auto insurance, saying such a move would result in some drivers being unable to buy insurance at all.
Ms. Wynne's minority Liberals need New Democrat support to pass their first budget and avoid a spring election. To that end, they have bowed to several NDP budget demands, including a pledge to slash auto insurance premiums by 15 per cent.
But Ms. Wynne said Thursday that trying to force rates down in a set period of time would be dangerous.
Slashing industry profits could lead insurance companies to refuse to insure people or to jack up prices on other types of insurance to make up for lost money.
Instead, Ms. Wynne favours cracking down on fraud and forcing the industry to pass the resultant savings on to customers.
Under the Liberal plan, an average household would save about $200 every year on auto insurance.
"I just don't believe that it's possible for us to put a firm date," she said Thursday during a visit to Brampton, Ont., a Toronto suburb where car insurance rates are particularly high. "We have to do this in a prudent way, and it has to be a viable outcome. What I don't want to do is create a situation where there are people who won't be able to get insurance…I'm not willing to put people at risk in that way."
Ms. Wynne pledged to move "as quickly as we can" to make the insurance rate cuts, provided her government's budget passes.
But this isn't enough for the New Democrats.
NDP MPP Jagmeet Singh, whose advocacy was largely responsible for the auto insurance demand, said the government has to put a tight, measurable timeline into the plan.
"If the reduction happens over a 10-year period, that's meaningless. If the reduction happens over a five-year period, also meaningless," he said. "If the reduction doesn't happen in a timely manner with some way of measuring it, it loses its value."
The Liberals must hold the first confidence vote on their budget before the end of the month.
Ms. Wynne has spent the last several days highlighting new budget programs that will die if the NDP votes against her. These include funding for youth jobs, money for home care and an increase to the Ontario Child Benefit.
On Thursday, she visited a Brampton family to tout the benefits of her auto insurance plan.
"I give credit to members like Jagmeet Singh who have taken up the torch on this issue," she said. "This is an issue that needs to be addressed, we are addressing it in the budget and we would like to see the budget passed."