Curtains close on Ontario election drama as minority Liberal budget passes

TORONTO – A summer election in Ontario was averted Wednesday with the passage of the minority Liberal government’s budget.

Despite forcing the Liberals to make several changes, such as delaying corporate tax cuts and adding a tax on incomes over $500,000, the New Democrats did not vote for the budget.

The NDP abstained on the final vote, leaving the Liberals to outvote the Progressive Conservatives 52-to-35 to pass their budget, avoiding the automatic defeat of the minority government.

As the dust settled on the showdown that pushed the province to the brink of an election, both Premier Dalton McGuinty and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath declared victory over their opponents.

“Look, I’m prepared to add water to my wine, but if you get to the point where you have more water than wine, that’s a real concern,” the premier said.

“I think we made it clear that you can only go so far before you begin to undermine the very essence of the budget itself.”

McGuinty joked that until now, he had never really appreciated how lucky he was to have presided over majority governments in the past.

But the acrimonious debate over the budget was far from funny earlier this week, with McGuinty threatening an election and his ministers accusing Horwath of being disingenuous and a backstabber.

Right up until the final vote, the Liberals said they did not trust the New Democrats to keep their word and let the budget pass after breaking two previous agreements on the fiscal plan.

They were furious with the NDP for teaming with the Tories to make more changes to the budget after the government made concessions to get New Democratic support.

While pleased with the changes they forced in the budget, the NDP were just as mad at the Liberals for all the name-calling.

For a government that wants to root out bullying in schools, the Liberals have shown their true colours over the past week, they said.

“Bullying doesn’t work. It didn’t impress me this week and it won’t intimidate me in the fall,” Horwath said.

“We’ve had a few days of rather undignified discourse and silly games that frankly damaged the field of politics.”

Publicly, the two leaders have said they’ll bury the hatchet and find a way to work together in the fall. But the battle wounds were still visible Wednesday.

McGuinty wouldn’t rule out another election threat and Horwath’s team passed out campaign-style cards calling his government a bunch of bullies.

“In any relationship when you feel a sense of betrayal, it takes a little time, but we are all presumably mature adults, and we know our mission is greater than the partisan politics of any one issue or any one interest,” said Greg Sorbara, the Liberal party’s campaign chair.

“Now we have to start doing a little bit of work on strengthening relationships again and repairing some damage for which there will be a scar or two.”

McGuinty even batted his eyes at the Progressive Conservatives, who condemned the budget the day it was introduced and voted against it as a block.

“(When) you’re leading a minority government, some days you’re going to have to tack left and some days you’re going to have to tack right, but ultimately you want to keep moving forward on the behalf of Ontarians,” he said.

“I’m hoping I’m not going to have to keep tacking only to the left.”

But Opposition Leader Tim Hudak didn’t welcome McGuinty’s advances, saying he has no regrets about not negotiating with the Liberals to change the budget.

McGuinty was only looking for a budget patsy to blame for higher taxes and more spending the province cannot afford.

“If Dalton McGuinty were looking at somebody to pick up the shovel to dig a deeper debt or somebody to help him to take more money out of people’s pockets, that’s not me,” Hudak said.

Tory finance critic Peter Shurman said McGuinty should never have threatened to call an election because the Conservatives and NDP made more changes to the budget at committee.

“Dalton McGuinty behaved like the absolute monarch that he believed he was,” Shurman told the legislature.

“When he found he was outranked … he threw a hissy fit, a tantrum and refused to collaborate.”

After the budget bill was given royal assent by Lt.-Gov. David Onley, there was one final vote to approve the tax changes in the budget before the legislature adjourned for the summer.

The NDP did vote with the Liberals to implement the tax changes they had pushed the government to make.