Ontario's summer election threat eases despite more opposition budget changes

TORONTO – More opposition changes to the Ontario budget Monday were not enough to trigger a summer election, despite warnings from Premier Dalton McGuinty.

The New Democrats and Progressive Conservatives teamed up at finance committee to eliminate a key budget section on labour arbitration — even after McGuinty said Sunday he would not tolerate any more major amendments to the minority government’s fiscal plan.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath had warned the government the party would try to eliminate portions of the budget dealing with arbitration, said Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, who fills in as Liberal spokesman when McGuinty doesn’t want to enter the battle himself.

“In response to the premier’s request this weekend, Ms. Horwath did provide notification, in writing, to him that these would be the last of the schedules she would oppose,” Duncan said in a release Monday evening.

“Given the need to hold Ms. Horwath to her word, I will continue to keep a close eye on the committee tomorrow.”

There are dozens of schedules attached to the omnibus budget bill that amend other pieces of legislation, which the opposition parties say should be stand-alone bills. McGuinty has said he will re-introduce some of them in the fall in new legislation.

The Liberals said they twice made concessions, including adding a new tax on the rich, to get the NDP to allow the budget to pass, and no longer trust the New Democrats unless they get written guarantees.

“I remain disappointed that Ms. Horwath continues to backtrack on the original agreements,” added Duncan.

The Liberals also lashed out at the Tories for teaming up with the NDP to eliminate the section on labour arbitration, comparing the Conservatives to spoiled children.

“It’s like they asked for chocolate ice cream. We gave them chocolate ice cream, now they’re spitting it out,” Liberal Yasir Naqvi told the committee. “It defies common sense, and I’ll let the public decide what’s going on here.”

The Tories said they voted to defeat the arbitration section because it would lengthen timelines for decisions, and it doesn’t require arbitrators to take into account the employers’ ability to pay.

McGuinty had warned the New Democrats in a letter Sunday to stop making major changes to the minority government’s budget if they wanted to let it pass, as promised, and avoid triggering another election.

Horwath responded early Monday by saying she was always committed to seeing the budget pass, but wouldn’t bow to McGuinty’s demand that there be no more changes.

“I am not someone who responds to ultimatums by simply snapping to attention and doing what Mr. McGuinty says I have to do,” she said.

“What I do is take a look at what the options are and try to find the path forward, and that’s exactly what I’ve done.”

The Sunday letter made no mention of the premier’s threats Friday to call an election, and dropped his demand that the schedules the opposition parties already removed be reinstated in the budget bill.

The legislature is scheduled to be recalled Wednesday for the final budget vote, and if it doesn’t pass the minority government would automatically be defeated, launching another election.

The Liberals need only one NDP vote to pass the budget, or the New Democrats could abstain and allow the government to outvote the Conservatives, who have vowed to defeat the budget since the day it was introduced.