OTTAWA - If Tim Hudak wins the most seats in the Ontario election but falls short of a majority, the Progressive Conservatives have the right to "attempt" to form government, Premier Kathleen Wynne said Wednesday.
The Liberal leader refused to speculate on a possible coalition or partnership with the New Democrats at a later stage, but insisted she will work to make sure a minority government functions.
"I have worked in a minority parliament for the last 16 months," said Wynne.
"If that isn't what the people of Ontario choose then we will continue to work in a minority parliament with whoever the government is."
But asked repeatedly whether she would be willing to team up with the NDP if a minority Tory government is short-lived, Wynne didn't provide a clear answer.
"Hypothetical. Hypothetical. Hypothetical," she said. "We're running for a strong mandate. We're looking for a mandate from the people of Ontario.
If one of the parties forms a minority government, it would have to open parliament with a throne speech — a confidence motion that determines its survival.
If it doesn't pass, the government would fall, triggering another election if no other party can gain the confidence of the legislature.
In 1985, the Liberals and New Democrats joined forces to replace the newly elected minority Conservative government, who had four more seats than the Liberals. The Liberals agreed to implement NDP policies in exchange for their support for two years.
But Wynne wasn't interested in talking about history Wednesday, announcing that a new Liberal government would bring back the legislature within 20 days of the election and re-introduce the budget, which is also a confidence motion.
The election was called after both opposition parties panned the May 1 budget, which raises the possibility that Ontario quickly could be plunged into another $90-million election if the Liberals form another minority government.
Asked if she would table the same $130.4-billion spending plan — which would hike Ontario's deficit to $12.5 billion — even if it means triggering another election, Wynne dismissed it as another "hypothetical question."
"That will be up to the people who are sitting in the legislature," she said after a rally earlier in the day in Vaughan, north of Toronto.
"But if we are re-elected, we will have been re-elected on the plan that we have brought forward to the people of Ontario, and that's the plan that we'll be ready to implement."
Re-introducing the budget would back the opposition parties in a corner, forcing them to decide whether to accept a plan they condemned, or get back on the bus for an election they could ill afford.
Wynne's the one who's in a corner after Tuesday's televised leaders' debate, where she couldn't defend the Liberals' "indefensible record," Horwath said at a campaign event in Toronto.
"I think Ontarians are tired frankly of their money being wasted, of the scandals of tax dollars being used for political partisan purposes," she said. "That's not what the people of this province deserve."
Hudak said if the Tories form a government, he would "move immediately" to bring in a mini-budget, but wouldn't say when he would call back the legislature.
As for Wynne's comments that she would let the winning party form a government, he called it an "encouraging change" but questioned her motivation, suggesting she was concerned about a public uproar if she clung to power after losing the election.
"Voters don't want a coalition," he told The Canadian Press in an interview.
"They know that a combination of (former Liberal premier) Dalton McGuinty and (former NDP premier) Bob Rae is not going to be in the best interests of Ontario, so I suspect that's why you have a change in position."
Wynne ridiculed Hudak's pledge to resign as premier if, once elected, he can't keep all his campaign promises, including cutting 100,000 public-sector jobs to help balance the budget. She called it a "fog of deflection" aimed at masking what his austerity plan would really do.
Hudak can't "govern by gimmick," Wynne said, before offering her own 20-day guarantee to recall the legislature.
"He's offered a money-back guarantee, but will the 100,000 people he puts out of work get a jobs-back guarantee?" she said to a cheering crowd of hundreds of supporters.
"He'll sacrifice our economy on the altar of extreme conservative ideology," Wynne said. "I stand against that."