TORONTO - A summer election in Ontario was averted Wednesday with the passage of the minority Liberal government's budget.
Despite forcing the Liberals to make several changes, such as delaying corporate tax cuts and adding a tax on incomes over $500,000, the New Democrats did not vote for the budget.
The NDP abstained on the final vote, leaving the Liberals to outvote the Progressive Conservatives 52-to-35 to pass their budget, avoiding the automatic defeat of the minority government.
As the dust settled on the showdown that pushed the province to the brink of an election, both Premier Dalton McGuinty and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath declared victory over their opponents.
"Look, I'm prepared to add water to my wine, but if you get to the point where you have more water than wine, that's a real concern," the premier said.
"I think we made it clear that you can only go so far before you begin to undermine the very essence of the budget itself."
McGuinty joked that until now, he had never really appreciated how lucky he was to have presided over majority governments in the past.
But the acrimonious debate over the budget was far from funny earlier this week, with McGuinty threatening an election and his ministers accusing Horwath of being disingenuous and a backstabber.
Right up until the final vote, the Liberals said they did not trust the New Democrats to keep their word and let the budget pass after breaking two previous agreements on the fiscal plan.
They were furious with the NDP for teaming with the Tories to make more changes to the budget after the government made concessions to get New Democratic support.
While pleased with the changes they forced in the budget, the NDP were just as mad at the Liberals for all the name-calling.
For a government that wants to root out bullying in schools, the Liberals have shown their true colours over the past week, they said.
"Bullying doesn't work. It didn't impress me this week and it won't intimidate me in the fall," Horwath said.
"We've had a few days of rather undignified discourse and silly games that frankly damaged the field of politics."
Publicly, the two leaders have said they'll bury the hatchet and find a way to work together in the fall. But the battle wounds were still visible Wednesday.
McGuinty wouldn't rule out another election threat and Horwath's team passed out campaign-style cards calling his government a bunch of bullies.
"In any relationship when you feel a sense of betrayal, it takes a little time, but we are all presumably mature adults, and we know our mission is greater than the partisan politics of any one issue or any one interest," said Greg Sorbara, the Liberal party's campaign chair.
"Now we have to start doing a little bit of work on strengthening relationships again and repairing some damage for which there will be a scar or two."
McGuinty even batted his eyes at the Progressive Conservatives, who condemned the budget the day it was introduced and voted against it as a block.
"(When) you're leading a minority government, some days you're going to have to tack left and some days you're going to have to tack right, but ultimately you want to keep moving forward on the behalf of Ontarians," he said.
"I'm hoping I'm not going to have to keep tacking only to the left."
But Opposition Leader Tim Hudak didn't welcome McGuinty's advances, saying he has no regrets about not negotiating with the Liberals to change the budget.
McGuinty was only looking for a budget patsy to blame for higher taxes and more spending the province cannot afford.
"If Dalton McGuinty were looking at somebody to pick up the shovel to dig a deeper debt or somebody to help him to take more money out of people's pockets, that's not me," Hudak said.
Tory finance critic Peter Shurman said McGuinty should never have threatened to call an election because the Conservatives and NDP made more changes to the budget at committee.
"Dalton McGuinty behaved like the absolute monarch that he believed he was," Shurman told the legislature.
"When he found he was outranked ... he threw a hissy fit, a tantrum and refused to collaborate."
After the budget bill was given royal assent by Lt.-Gov. David Onley, there was one final vote to approve the tax changes in the budget before the legislature adjourned for the summer.
The NDP did vote with the Liberals to implement the tax changes they had pushed the government to make.
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]
What Each Province Gets In Equalization
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equalization_payments_in_Canada#Regional_fiscal_disparities_in_Canada" target="_hplink">Here's how much money each province will receive in equalization payments during the 2013-2014 year.</a> Source: <a href="http://www.fin.gc.ca/fedprov/eqp-eng.asp">Department of Finance</a>. (Alamy)
P.E.I. - $340 Million
Per capita: $2,350 (MICHEL VIATTEAU/AFP/Getty Images)
Nova Scotia - $1.458 Billion
Per capita: $1,342 (Tim BREAKMEIE/AFP/Getty Images)
New Brunswick - $1.513 Billion
Per capita: $1,985 (Luke Pinneo/Getty Images)
Manitoba - $1.792 Billion
Per capita: $1,353 (<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jezz/">Flickr: Jezz's Photostream</a>
Ontario - $3.169 Billion
Per capita: $246 (GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images)
Quebec - $7.833 Billion
Per capita: $934 (Alamy)
Newfoundland And Labrador - No Payments
(<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/60548141@N00/" target="_hplink">Flickr: magnolia1000</a>)
B.C. - No Payments
Alberta - No Payments
(MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
Saskatchewan - No Payments
(<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/justaprairieboy/">Flickr: Just a Prairie Boy's photostream</a>)