TORONTO - The NDP's list of demands in exchange for supporting the Liberal budget — and avoiding another Ontario election — was dismissed Tuesday as a "spending spree" by the cash-strapped minority government.
Voters did not give any party a majority last October and don't want to be forced back to the polls because politicians couldn't get a budget passed in a minority parliament, warned NDP Leader Andrea Horwath as she unveiled her final demands.
"What they want to see now is the Liberal government, in its minority, to make some compromises to make sure that the budget is acceptable by at least one of the other political parties," she said.
Horwath added a $250-million job creation tax credit and help for the horse racing and tourism sectors to her list of demands, which for the most part amounts to a beefed-up version of the NDP's campaign platform from last fall.
Last week, Horwath called for a new tax on people making over $500,000 and said the eight per cent provincial portion of the HST should be removed from home heating bills.
She also wants the Liberals to keep Ontario Northland in public hands after they used the budget to announce the province could no longer afford to subsidize passenger train service, a move the NDP says will cost 1,000 jobs.
"The government brought forward a budget that had no job creation at all in it, and in fact really killed a lot of jobs in a couple of different areas, (and) that was a concern for us," said Horwath.
"We want to see more fairness in the budget."
Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid said the Liberals want the Ministry of Finance to review the NDP's ideas before reacting, but made it clear eliminating the $15.2-billion deficit by 2017-18 remains the government's top priority.
"What we're seeing from the NDP here looks like a bit of a spending spree," said Duguid.
"It's questionable as to whether it's costed out properly or not. We'll have to let Finance look at the numbers to determine exactly how much damage this does in terms of our efforts to balance the budget."
Speaking in Windsor on Tuesday, Premier Dalton McGuinty rejected the NDP's call to help the horse racing industry and keep Ontario Northland public, and added none of the other NDP ideas focused on how the government could save money.
"We would have appreciated receiving some suggestions as to how we might further reduce our expenditures," said McGuinty.
"It’s always easy to spend more. It’s so much harder to spend less."
McGuinty again lashed out at the Progressive Conservatives for vowing to vote against the budget, which means the Liberals need at least two NDP votes or the minority government will be defeated.
"From the get-go the PCs said they’re not interested in (working together) and have not submitted a single, responsible proposal for us to consider," he said.
"Their interest is personal and political. They'd like to cause an expensive, unnecessary election."
The Tories say they have put forward ideas such as cutting corporate taxes, reforming the apprenticeship system and scrapping subsidies for wind and solar power projects, and accused the Liberals of trying to arrange another election so they can win a majority government.
"It seems like they protest a little bit too much on that issue," said deputy PC leader Christine Elliott.
"They seem to be out there on the campaign trail, kissing babies and talking about how much they don’t want an election. That usually signals that they do."
The NDP are "not drawing any lines in the sand," said Horwath, and want to keep negotiating with the Liberals to get agree on a budget they can support and avoid defeating the minority government.
"I am prepared to have a conversation with the government about how they can take these proposals and make them work, and put them in the budget, either as-is, or I’m open to a conversation about how we can achieve some of these things if they’re not prepared to do them as-is," she said.
"But I have to say we’re pretty firm on the fact that these are areas this budget needs to be repaired on."
The 2012 Ontario budget freezes pay for doctors, and extends a pay freeze for health care executives. The province will begin means-testing seniors' prescription drugs, paid for under the Ontario Drug Benefit Plan, effectively meaning that the 5 per cent wealthiest seniors covered by the plan will have to pay more into the plan. Seniors with incomes over $100,000 and senior couples with combined incomes above $160,000 will be affected. Increases in health care spending will be capped at 2.1 per cent per year.
The budget freezes pay for teachers. A pay freeze for educational executives, already in place, will be extended. School boards in low-population areas will be amalgamated, and "under-utilized" schools will be shut. Student transportation will be cut by $34 million.
The province will begin means-testing seniors' prescription drugs, paid for under the Ontario Drug Benefit Plan, effectively meaning that the 5 per cent wealthiest seniors covered by the plan will have to pay more into the plan. Seniors with incomes over $100,000 and senior couples with combined incomes above $160,000 will be affected.
Welfare rates will be frozen and planned increases to the Ontario Child Benefit will be delayed.
There are no tax hikes in the 2012 Ontario budget, but it does freeze the corporate tax rate at 11.5 per cent, foregoing planned reductions in the tax rate to 10 per cent. The freeze is expected to save $1.5 billion over three years.
Ontario will cap the 10 per cent hydro bill rebate at 3,000 kilowatt-hours, a limit high enough that most homes won't be affected, but businesses could be. Reducing the tax credit will save $470 million over three years.
On top of the four jails the province already plans to close, the budget adds two more to the closure list -- one in Brantford and one in Chatham. Overtime for jail guards and the Ontario Provincial Police will be reduced.
Ontario plans to reduce spending on business support programs by $250 million by merging a number of different programs.
The province aims to increase revenue by increasing the number of gambling facilities. [Details to come]