TORONTO - One of Ontario's opposition leaders says there is still time to reach a compromise on the provincial budget and avoid the prospect of an election, but her plea appeared to have little effect on the governing Liberals.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath made a call Saturday for emergency talks this weekend to stave off a second provincial vote within the past year.
If the Liberals and Opposition Progressive Conservatives are serious about avoiding a summer election campaign, they'll talk things out with her, Horwath told a news conference Saturday.
The Liberals, however, said the time for negotiations has passed, arguing they already made concessions in cementing a deal with the New Democrats to pass the budget.
"The leader of the NDP last week threw that out the window and put us on some very thin ice. My only hope is ... she's recognized that was an unwise move on her part," Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid said in a news conference to respond to Horwath.
"If Andrea Horwath is ready now to live up to her original word, then we're all ears," he said.
Officials in the premier's office said the Liberals believe additional talks would be a dead end, given the results of the last round.
The legislature adjourned Thursday and the government seemed poised to sail through the budget vote that will bring MPPs back to Queen's Park for a crucial budget vote on Wednesday.
Trouble emerged later that day at committee, when the Conservatives voted with the New Democrats to scrap portions of the minority Liberal government's budget, including provisions to privatize government services.
Premier Dalton McGuinty accused Horwath of breaking a deal to vote for the budget when the Liberals agreed to her demand for a tax on incomes over $500,000.
But the New Democrats maintained Saturday they never agreed to rubber-stamp the budget bill, and noted the Liberals have tabled a number of amendments themselves.
"I've done exactly what I told the premier and the people of Ontario I would do, which is to study a 330-page bill and try to make it better," said Horwath, defending herself against what she called a barrage of "insults" and "misinformation."
She said there's no room for brinkmanship in a minority government and the Liberals should focus on "getting real results" instead.
"I think it's sad that the focus of the premier is on gaining a majority government as opposed to making a minority government work," she said.
The Tories, meanwhile, have promised from the start to oppose the budget, and it's unclear whether they would join in any last-minute talks.
They have said the dispute is just the latest chapter in the Liberal-NDP "soap opera."
Duguid accused Tory Leader Tim Hudak of neglecting his responsibilities by "walking away" from the budget debate before it even began.
What's In The Ontario Budget 2012
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.
Crime & Security
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.
Gambling & Lotteries
The province aims to increase revenue by increasing the number of gambling facilities. [Details to come]