The NDP, who helped the Liberals survive a crucial budget vote just two weeks ago, are being tossed aside for Premier Dalton McGuinty's latest seduction target: the Progressive Conservatives.
McGuinty reached out to his rivals on Tuesday, saying his cash-strapped government needs their help to impose a wage freeze on broader public sector workers — a move the NDP opposes — if all other options at the bargaining table fail to produce one.
"I'm hopeful it doesn't come to legislated measures in order for us to deal with wage freezes," said McGuinty, who is battling a $15-billion deficit.
"But if it does come to that, I'm hoping we can count on (Progressive Conservative Leader Tim) Hudak and his party because I believe we have some common ground there."
The Tories have long called for an immediate pay freeze for all publicly paid workers, such as nurses and teachers, saying it will save the province $2 billion a year.
On Monday, Hudak announced plans to introduce legislation that would force a wage freeze right away.
So far, the Tories have played hard to get with the Liberals on the budget, announcing they'd vote against it the day it was tabled because it didn't do enough to stop the province from spiralling further into debt.
McGuinty said that forced him to work with the NDP instead and capitulate to their demand to hike taxes for the wealthy.
But the premier's the one who turned his back on the Tories when he refused to consider any of their suggestions for the March budget, said PC finance critic Peter Shurman.
If McGuinty is sincere about freezing wages, he should support Hudak's wage-freeze legislation, Shurman said.
"I think that if they're serious about wanting to legislate a wage freeze in the broader public sector, then they have to demonstrate so by getting together with us and engaging in reasonable debate," he said.
"Collaboration is not a one-way thing."
Jilted NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she's not heartbroken that her party's brief affair with the Liberals appears to be over.
"It's interesting," she said. "It's hard to get a sense of where the premier is at on this issue. It used to be that he very clearly said legislated submissions don’t work and that’s not the way to do things. And now all of a sudden that's exactly what he's reaching for."
The Liberals have warned for years that they cannot afford any more pay increases in order to balance the books in 2017. But they're now threatening to legislate a wage freeze and back-to-work legislation if that's what it takes.
But the threat is not actually in the budget bill, which will come up for a vote in the legislature.
McGuinty's pitch to the Tories came a day after his government cut several hundred fees that are paid to doctors, which it said would save $338 million this year.
The unilateral move was the latest salvo in its battle with the Ontario Medical Association over a new labour agreement. The government is refusing to provide more money to the doctors, who say it's unfair that they'll end up absorbing the rising costs of health care in the province.