TORONTO - Ontario's premier-to-be has yet to be sworn in, but newly minted Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne is already facing demands from opposition party leaders as she embarks on her quest to keep the minority government alive.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Monday she wants a public inquiry into the politically motivated cancellation of two gas plants that cost taxpayers at least $230 million.
The move would likely be disastrous for the governing Liberals, who are already under fire for the spending scandal at Ontario's Ornge air ambulance service, a $12-billion deficit and a labour battle with teachers that's cost many students their extracurricular activities.
Asked whether the New Democrats would support another contempt motion against the Liberals if Wynne didn't agree to a public inquiry into the gas plants, Horwath left little room for doubt.
"She has a pretty basic choice," she said.
"We can either take it out of the legislature and find a place for the people to get their answers, or we can go through the process inside the legislature. That will be her decision to make."
Energy Minister Chris Bentley was brought up on charges of contempt in the fall, triggered by the government’s refusal to release documents on the cost of cancelling the two plants in Oakville and Mississauga. But Premier Dalton McGuinty wiped out the contempt motion by proroguing the legislature on Oct. 15.
Horwath insisted she's not trying to burn any bridges that Wynne's trying to build with the NDP before she brings back the legislature on Feb. 19.
She's just giving the incoming premier an "out," so they can take the issue out of the legislature and get down to business.
"The bottom line is, if this legislature is simply seized once again, paralyzed once again by the whole issue of the gas plants, then how far are we going to get?" asked Horwath, who spoke briefly with Wynne later in the day.
"I'm not drawing a line in the sand, I'm not saying she has to do it my way or the highway. I don't do that. But what I am saying is, this is a real option for the premier to consider."
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said he wants Wynne to cut government spending immediately to reduce the deficit.
He said he's willing to work with the incoming premier, yet his party has already launched attack ads calling Wynne "another McGuinty Liberal Ontario can't afford."
Branding your opponents early, before the public has a chance to know them, has worked effectively for Hudak's federal cousins.
The federal Tories' sustained attack ads against former Liberal leaders Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff — painting them respectively as "not a leader" and "just visiting" Canada — gave voters a bad impression of the two before they had a chance to introduce themselves.
Hudak defended his party's attack ads against Wynne — which aired within hours of her winning the leadership contest on Saturday — saying he'll use any opportunity he has to draw attention to what he calls a "debt and jobs crisis" in the province.
"I'm going to use every channel I have to sound the warning bells that we can't keep going in the direction we're going," he said Monday.
"And I think I have a right to be concerned early on when the indication from the incoming premier is she wants to continue the Dalton McGuinty agenda."
Hudak said he's optimistic that Wynne will change course and he's willing to help her, but he doesn't want a repeat of the past nine years under McGuinty's leadership.
Wynne had little to say about the demands from the opposition party leaders Monday, after emerging from a nearly hour-long meeting with McGuinty in his office.
"I'm looking forward to meeting with Andrea and Tim," she said. "We'll be having good conversations."
Speaking to reporters as Wynne left his office, McGuinty said he didn't need to pass on any advice.
"She has all the wisdom that she needs," he said. "I have every confidence in her. I'm very proud of my leader."
It's not yet clear when McGuinty will officially step down and Wynne will be sworn in. But she plans to meet with the Liberal caucus on Tuesday. McGuinty is not expected to attend.