New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath says she never promised the Liberals she would help move the budget bill through the Ontario legislature, despite claims to the contrary from the government.
The Liberals have complained that opposition parties are holding up the process, further accusing the New Democrats of backing away from a commitment to get the budget passed.
On Thursday, Premier Dalton McGuinty told reporters he was confident Horwath would honour the deal that was brokered last month, which saw the Liberals make concessions in exchange for NDP support on a vote that could have sunk the government.
“We accommodated them by making some significant changes to our budget, they accommodated us by agreeing to help us ensure the budget is passed in a timely way,” he said during a news conference in Woodbridge, Ont.
“I have every confidence that we have such an agreement, I have every confidence that Ms. Horwath is honourable and trustworthy and that we will continue to work together to ensure that we secure passage of this budget at the earliest possible opportunity.”
But Horwath said the New Democrats only “were committed to allowing the process to go forward,” so that it could be further scrutinized and amended, which is what happened when the party abstained from voting on the budget motion.
While McGuinty indicated during those negotiations that he wanted the budget process to move along quickly, Horwath said she made no commitment to do that.
“The premier a couple of times mentioned the fact that he wanted to see that we got all of this done quickly and by the end of the session — and not once did I say that I was prepared to expedite the process,” Horwath told reporters at Queen’s Park on Thursday.
“I was very clear with the premier that we were going through the first phase, we would have discussions about the future when that time came.”
Earlier this week, the Liberals suggested that if the budget is not passed soon, the very concessions the NDP had sought from the government — including a surtax on high-earning Ontarians — will be in jeopardy.
That’s why Horwath said the New Democrats are introducing a private member’s bill to fast-track some of the measures they had fought for.
“We think that this is a way to start moving forward and get some of the budget issues behind us,” she said.
Horwath further suggested that the government is trying “to hold hostage these progressive tax measures and try to ram through the budget bill at the same time.”
She said it is the NDP’s view that such a tactic is “irresponsible,” and the party remains committed to seeing the budget process play out in full.
“I’ve been clear from Day One that I want to see some scrutiny of that budget bill — it’s 330 pages long, it’s a significant piece of legislation that has some serious consequences and our job as opposition is to scrutinize that bill,” she said.