Andrea Horwath: "I'm Glad We've Been Able to Turn Down the Temperature"

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Andrea Horwath: “I’m Glad We’ve Been Able to Turn Down the Temperature”

NDP leader says her party will let the provincial budget pass, but won't budge on opposing four schedules that have to do with labour negotiations.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath on the day the budget was introduced this spring.

Speaking to reporters this morning, provincial NDP leader Andrea Horwath emphasized that her party is still committed to allowing the provincial budget tabled by the minority Liberal government to pass, but said that this commitment isn’t a blank cheque to permit provisions to go through unopposed. The statement came on the heels of last week’s sudden increase in tension at Queen’s Park, as the Progressive Conservatives and NDP found themselves in an odd position: on the same side of a debate, united in opposing certain elements of that Liberal budget.

Their combined opposition meant that particular elements of the budget—specifically, schedules for implementing various measures, including ones that would pave the way for some increased privatization—would be stripped out of the budget at the committee level, before coming to a vote in the legislature. (The NDP and PCs combined have a majority on the finance committee, which considers amendments to the budget before the package as a whole gets voted on by MPPs.) The Liberals protested, with Premier Dalton McGuinty saying those changes would “gut” the budget and suggesting he might call for a summer election rather than bring that revised budget to a vote.

It’s the first real political mess the minority Liberals have had to deal with. Last week the party seemed genuinely taken off guard by the NDP’s opposition: they had been working under the impression that they’d settled on the key elements of a budget that would pass—one that incorporated several policy changes the NDP said it needed in order to allow the budget to go through. (Technical note: the NDP has been clear to distinguish between allowing the budget to pass by not opposing it—which the party said it would do, subject to certain revisions—and actively voting for the budget, which it hasn’t promised.) The NDP, for its part, said last week that while those key policy changes, such as a tax increase for Ontario’s highest earners, are necessary, they are not sufficient.

While attention has been focused on the Liberals and the NDP—the two parties still talking—the Tories are at least as responsible for triggering the current flare-up. Their opposition to the budget schedules, while in keeping with their declaration that they are opposed to the budget as a whole, is a bit odd, since those measures (i.e., privatization) are ones to which the Tories are actually committed. Hudak’s choice of politics over policy hasn’t garnered much commentary, though—since the Tories have always made it clear they’d vote against the budget, all eyes have been on the NDP, whose choices will be what enable the budget to pass, or not.

Those choices, as described today by Horwath: “in the spirit of collaboration…we will allow the final budget bill to pass on Wednesday.” “As long as our amendments pass,” she went on, the party would back down on some of the opposition it expressed last week, reducing the number of entire schedules it rejects from 13 down to four. Those four, she said, all have to do with labour arbitration. Horwath added that the NDP would back 55 proposed Tory amendments and 84 Liberal amendments to the budget. “I am hoping that today we avoided an election,” she said, “and in the coming months I’ll be working with Liberals and PCs on what matters.”

Dalton McGuinty has yet to respond to this morning’s statement, but over the weekend he and Horwath exchanged letters. In his, McGuinty reportedly wrote that he hoped the budget would come to the legislature with all its schedules intact, but also softened his tone when it came to talk about any potential election.

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