The fate of the new Ontario budget, and the Liberal government, rests in the hands of the NDP, as the Conservatives, including Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris, have vowed to vote against it. A loss in a confidence vote would see the government fall, leading to another election.
Premier Kathleen Wynne’s first budget, delivered May 2, includes concessions demanded by NDP leader Andrea Horwath, including a 15-per-cent cut to auto insurance rates that could mean $225 in savings for the average driver.
Overall, the Liberals proposed to spend $127 billion, with a projected deficit of $11.7 billion for 2013-14.
Aside from the insurance rate reductions, the budget includes a youth jobs strategy, with $295 million to be spent over two years in creating jobs and mentorship opportunities for 30,000 young people. The province also plans to proceed with a new $100 million investment to help small and rural municipalities build roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects.
New investments planned for GO Transit over the next 10 years include projects that will allow for an additional 50,000 riders per day, an increase of almost 20 per cent over current levels.
While Tory leader Tim Hudak vowed to vote against the budget even before it was introduced, Horwath wanted to consult with the public before laying out conditions for supporting the government. This week, she called for the creation of a financial accountability office as a way to help ensure that Liberals keep their spending in check. The office, modeled after the federal Parliamentary Budget Office, would oversee spending and provide public information on how the government uses tax dollars in the future.
“It’s a way to ensure the people get the facts about spending and not the spin,” Horwath said during a press conference at Queen’s Park.
Wynne needs Horwath’s backing for the budget to pass and to avoid failing a confidence vote, which would send us back to the polls.
The Conservatives, however, are pressing for just that outcome, though a recent poll shows Ontarians are split on the issue.
A Forum Research survey found that there was 44 per cent approval for the new budget among those polled, while 39 per cent disapproved and 17 per cent had no opinion. About half of Ontarians (53 per cent) did not want another election.
The voice-response phone poll of 869 people, conducted May 3, saw Horwath as the most-liked provincial party leader with 49 per cent approval and 18 per cent unsure.
About half of Ontarians, Forum Research noted, want the NDP to support the Liberals (36 per cent were opposed). Still, Liberals and Conservatives are nose-to-nose with 36 per cent support each, with the Tories looking to make hay over Liberal spending plans such as adding to the budget in order to appease the NDP (i.e. lower premiums on car insurance in Ontario, funding for home-care health services, and a plan to improve employment among youth).
And, though the $585 million cancellation of gas-fired power plants in Oakville and Mississauga by the former McGuinty government has been a main battering ram against Wynne at Queen’s Park, the Premier is doing relatively well in the polls, following behind Horwath at 42 per cent approval (18 per cent unsure). Hudak brings up the rear with a 27 per cent approval and 17 per cent of those polled undecided.
Locally, however, Harris said he’s been hearing rumblings of disapproval from his constituents.
“The solutions to Ontario’s problems aren’t hard to figure out; they’re just not easy to do. We need a government that actually has a plan to reduce spending, create jobs and has the courage to implement those measures,” Harris argued May 7.
Harris argues that Liberals are not providing a plan for following through on what they promised.
“I think [people] have a hard time believing any politician when they say to them ‘we’re going to reduce your auto insurance by 15 per cent’ without providing a real plan on how to get there,” he said.
“I can’t tell you the amount of e-mails I get, the people I talk to in my riding, and they are fed up.”