TORONTO – Ontario’s Liberal government is committed to introducing a new “revenue stream” to fund public transit in the upcoming budget, Premier Kathleen Wynne vowed Tuesday, dismissing an NDP warning not to raise taxes on middle-class families.
Wynne said she wasn’t prepared to play “Let’s Make A Deal” to avoid the minority government’s defeat on its fiscal plan.
“I look forward to being able to work with the opposition parties, but at the end of the day if the budget that we put forward is not going to be supported by the opposition, then we’ll be into a spring election,” she said.
As the legislature resumed sitting for the first time in two months, all three parties were jockeying for position in advance of the budget, expected in March or early April.
In a letter sent to Wynne Monday night, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath warned she “will not support any new taxes, tolls or fees that hit middle-class families.”
But Wynne said the Liberals are “committed” to finding a way to fund transit expansion in the heavily congested Toronto-to-Hamilton corridor, and will decide by budget time whether that will be an increased tax on gasoline, road tolls or some other levy.
“We have made a clear commitment to investing in transit,” she said. “It’s interesting, the way that the leader of the NDP frames her letter, she doesn’t talk about investments in transit or the need for us to have infrastructure built.”
Speaking with reporters Tuesday, Horwath stressed that her party “will not tolerate” any hike in the gas tax or new road tolls to fund transit, but refused to say if the NDP would vote against the minority government’s budget if it includes tax hikes.
“I have made my position clear, and there is no room for misunderstanding,” she said. “We don’t think that hitting families with yet another sales tax hike is going to actually grow our economy, and we don’t agree with the (PC Leader Tim)Hudak-Conservatives’ plan for new, private, 407-style toll highways.”
The Progressive Conservatives, who want an election as soon as possible, are pushing their own bill to create one million jobs over eight years, and are opposed to the idea of new taxes to pay for public transit expansions.
“I think it’s unfortunate that the premier sees taxpayers as revenue tools,” said Hudak.
The Tory leader did not hold out any hope they would be more co-operative than they were on the last two budgets, which they vowed to oppose even before seeing the Liberal plans.
“If she (Wynne) wants to give some helpful amendments to my million jobs plan, I’m all for it,” added Hudak.
Horwath also refused to say if she would support Wynne’s promise to introduce an Ontario Pension Plan, something the NDP proposed four years ago, and said only that the party would announce its position on pension payroll deductions in the future.
The premier complained she can’t get Horwath to commit to the NDP’s own idea for a provincial pension plan now that Ottawa has refused to enhance the CPP.
“She doesn’t talk about the need for retirement security for the people of the province, so we’re committed to those things,” said Wynne.
Horwath’s letter to Wynne said taxpayers see their money wasted by the Liberals on such things as the “politically motivated gas plant cancellations” prior to the 2011 election, which cost up to $1.1 billion.
Horwath, meanwhile, would still not say what the NDP’s position is on the Liberals’ decision to hike Ontario’s minimum wage to $11 an hour, even though it does not require legislation.
There were 20 government bills left over from the fall session, including one to give workers up to eight weeks unpaid leave to care for a sick family member and another to increase penalties for selling cigarettes to kids.