TORONTO - Ontario was plunged into a five-week election campaign Friday after Premier Kathleen Wynne decided it was better to pull the plug than wait for her minority Liberals to be defeated in the legislature on their brand new budget.
She visited Lt.-Gov. David Onley to ask him to call a June 12 election after the NDP dropped the bombshell that they would join the Progressive Conservatives to shoot down the $130.4-billion spending plan.
Ripping a page from the playbook of her new nemesis Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Wynne painted the decade-old Liberal government as the safe, steady alternative to the "reckless schemes" of the opposition parties.
Voters shouldn't consider veering to the political left or right, she warned, but stick to the balanced Liberal plan for job creation and economic growth that they proposed in Thursday's budget.
Tory Leader Tim Hudak and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath decided to force an election rather than supporting a plan that would see Ontario through its fragile economic recovery, she said.
It would also improve people's lives with a made-in-Ontario pension plan, billions for transit and transportation infrastructure and grants for businesses to create jobs, Wynne said.
"Quite frankly I thought there was a lot in the budget that would recommend itself to both the Tories and the NDP, but she made a different decision," she said. "I think a lot is at risk."
Although the NDP wrung concessions out of the Liberals in the last two budgets, Horwath said she could no longer prop up a government that was plagued by scandal after scandal and couldn't trust the Liberals to keep all their budget promises.
"I cannot in good conscience support a government that people don't trust anymore," said Horwath. "This budget is not a solid plan for the future. It's a mad dash to escape the scandals by promising the moon and the stars."
The controversies kept piling up, from the costly cancellation of two gas plants to the police investigation into the Ornge air ambulance service and potentially unsafe girders that were installed in the Windsor parkway, said Horwath.
"It's one scandal after another, it's continued behaviour from a government that hasn't seen the way to change their path, and so it wasn't only the $1.1-billion (gas plants) scandal itself, but it's the continuous cover up of information," she said.
"The leopard is not changing its spots."
Wynne put on a brave face when asked whether the scandals she's inherited from her predecessor Dalton McGuinty would finally end the Liberals' decade-long rule.
"I will continue to provide the openness that I have brought to this job since I came in just over a year ago," she said.
The dissolution of the legislature scuttles highly anticipated appearances of senior staff in McGuinty's office before a legislative committee looking into the gas plants scandal.
It also means there won't be any finding of contempt against the Liberals for the deletion of emails and wiping of hard drives in the premier's office because the committee is now disbanded.
The premier took several shots at Harper for failing to fund infrastructure to develop the Ring of Fire mineral deposit in northern Ontario, or help improve retirement income for people without a workplace pension plan.
But she reserved most of her vitriol for the NDP and the Tories.
"The NDP make pie-in-the-sky promises but they won't say how they'll pay for them," Wynne said. "So now is not the time for pipe dreams."
The Tories would "roll back the clock" in Ontario by "declaring war" on organized labour and slashing government programs people rely on, she added.
"Their cuts would devastate crucial public services in health and education," she said. "Their cuts would take us along a path towards a low-wage, low-growth economy."
Hudak said he has no qualms about taking his ideas to voters, which include lower corporate taxes and an across-the-board public sector wage freeze.
Horwath is hypocritical for taking so long to defeat the Liberals, which they should have done at least a year ago, he said in Ottawa.
"If you're looking for who's going to be the best actor on the stage, if you're looking for someone who's running a popularity contest by promising funding on all kinds of projects but they don't have the cheques to cash in, well then vote for the Liberal leader or the NDP leader," he said.
"But if you want a turnaround plan to get Ontario working again, look at me, look at my team, look at my plan."
Several large labour groups, including the Unifor and the Ontario Federation of Labour, had urged the NDP to pass the budget and avoid an election, but public sector unions complained the fiscal plan puts jobs at risk.
The Ontario Public Service Employees Union — which has been in a tough labour fight with the Liberals — said they support Horwath's call to go to the polls.
Despite the left-leaning goodies in the budget like the pension plan, the Liberals can't be trusted, said OPSEU president Warren "Smokey" Thomas.
There needs to be an election, even if it runs the risk of producing a right-wing Conservative government that "hates unions" and will tear down the province's public services, he said.
Even though Wynne asked to have the legislature dissolved on Friday, and it won't sit again until after the election, the campaign period doesn't officially begin until next Wednesday.
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Kathleen Wynne's Liberal government delivered its 2014-2015 budget on Thursday. Here's what you need to know. <em>With files from The Canadian Press</em>
Revenue down, spending up
- The deficit is expected to rise to $12.5 billion next year from $11.3 billion in 2013-14, before falling to $8.9 billion in 2015-16. The Liberals say they still plan to balance the books by 2017-18. - Revenues are down almost $1.2 billion from the budget projections for 2013-14 to an estimated $115.6 billion. - Program spending will grow next year by almost $3 billion. - Net debt ballooned to $269.2 billion for the year ending March 31 from $252.1 billion the previous year, leaving a debt-to-GDP ratio of 38.9 per cent, which is expected to grow to 40.3 per cent next year.
Tax hike for the well off
There will be a new tax rate of 12.16 per cent on income between $150,000 and $220,000. The 13.16 per cent tax rate for incomes above $514,000 will now apply to incomes above $220,000.
Tobacco tax hike
The budget increases the tobacco tax from 12.35 cents a cigarette to 13.975 cents or $3.25 on a carton of 200, but the tax rate on cigars remains unchanged at 56.6 per cent.
A new retirement plan
- The budget proposes a new Ontario Retirement Pension Plan for people without a workplace pension will require contributions from employers and workers of 1.9 per cent of salary. Someone earning $70.000 a year would pay $1,263 into the pension plan and their employer would match that amount. The new plan would be introduced in 2017.
An aviation fuel tax hike
Pricier flights? They could be on the way. - The budget would hike the provincial tax on aviation fuel by four cents a litre over four years.
Lots of spending - Here's the big stuff
The budget has lots of new spending. - $29 billion over 10 years for public transit, roads, bridges and infrastructure. - $11.4 billion over 10 years for hospital expansion and redevelopment projects. - $11 billion over 10 years to repair, upgrade and build new elementary and high schools. - $2.5 billion over 10 years for a new jobs fund which would give grants to corporations. - $1 billion to help build a road to the remote Ring of Fire mineral deposit in northern Ontario, but the money is contingent on getting matching funds from the federal government.
The spending: the smaller stuff
Here are some of the smaller spending initiatives in the budget. - $810 million over three years for community supports for adults with developmental disabilities. - $294 million for a program that helps prevent homelessness. - $32 million to expand school breakfast and lunch programs. - Replace the Northern Allowance for people on social assistance with a Remote Communities Allowance adding $50 a month for the first person and $25 a month for each additional family member.