POLITICS

Premier Wynne optimistic Ontario budget will pass, avoiding spring election

05/16/2013 10:36 EDT | Updated 07/16/2013 05:12 EDT
VAUGHAN, Ont. - The chances of a spring election in Ontario have diminished now that the New Democrats have laid out all the demands for changes to the May 2 budget, Premier Kathleen Wynne said Thursday.

Budget talks Wednesday with NDP Leader Andrea Horwath "were very productive," and the two will meet again next week, Wynne said in her first public comments since the meeting.

"I think we were able to talk about some of the concerns that we both share and obviously some of the suggestions that she brought forward," Wynne told reporters.

"I do feel optimistic that there is enough common ground that we will be able to get the budget passed."

Even though the budget included many NDP ideas such as a cut in auto insurance premiums, higher welfare payments, a youth jobs program and more money for home care services, the NDP made three major post-budget demands.

And while Wynne said she and Horwath agreed not to discuss specifics in public, she sees merit in each of the NDP's additional requests, two of which focus on making the government more accountable.

The premier called the NDP's idea of a financial accountability officer "interesting," and agreed she's open to more oversight of Ontario's hospitals, but may not necessarily agree to have the ombudsman provide that additional level of scrutiny.

"There is always more that we can do to make sure that we are tracking and monitoring and measuring the outcomes of our programs and services," she said.

"The specifics of that is something that, you know, we need to talk more about."

NDP house leader Gilles Bisson said while the party wants the ombudsman to have oversight of hospitals, it's probably not a reason for them to defeat the budget, which would also defeat the minority government and trigger an election.

"The government has met us part ways, they've delivered on a number of things that we've asked," said Bisson.

"We want to make sure there's accountability in some form, and that has to be strong enough so that at the end we know the government will be held to account and the public will get the oversight that it needs, and how that happens has to be determined by the response of the premier."

The NDP also wants the government to abandon plans to add tolls for single drivers who want to use car pool lanes.

Wynne noted that idea was merely mentioned in the budget, but is not in the budget bill itself, suggesting the government can find common ground with the NDP on that issue as well.

Wynne admitted it was encouraging to see the NDP vote with the Liberals Wednesday to block a Conservative attempt to bring a non-confidence motion over two cancelled gas plants to the legislature for debate.

"The NDP have said all along that the budget was the confidence vote that they were interested in, and you know, obviously I think that that is a reasonable position," she said.

Government house leader John Milloy said the vote on the budget bill will likely take place May 30 or in the first week of June.

"It's no secret the timing of it is going to depend on our discussions with the NDP," said Milloy. "The (budget) debate will have to wrap up by May 30."

The Progressive Conservatives vowed to defeat the budget before they even read it, the same thing they did last year, so the Liberals again need the NDP to make sure the fiscal plan gets approved by the legislature.