TORONTO - Ontario's minority Liberal government is not living up to its talk of working with the opposition parties as it prepares a budget that is expected to include deep cuts to programs and services, the Tories and NDP said Wednesday.
"So far, this minority government has paid lip service to the idea of working with the opposition," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
"We hear it all the time, that they’re going to work with us. We certainly haven’t seen much of the action, although we’ve heard a lot of the lip service."
The Progressive Conservative said they too were being ignored by the minority Liberals in the budget preparations.
"They really haven’t reached out to us, and we don’t have any indications from them that they plan to include us," said deputy PC Leader Christine Elliott.
But Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid said it's the opposition parties who need to co-operate more with the government.
"They’re the ones that are dug in the mud on this, so if Andrea Horwath feels so strongly about making the legislature work better, perhaps she should co-operate a little bit more," said Duguid.
The Liberals have signalled the budget in March will include cuts of up to 30 per cent in ministries other than health and education to make sure Ontario stays on track to eliminate a $16-billion deficit and avoid an expensive credit downgrade.
However, the usual pre-budget hearings by the legislature's finance committee are not being held because the three parties couldn't agree on the makeup of committees in a minority parliament.
"We have a dysfunctional legislature," said Horwath.
"We have no committees, so the process that would get us to the dialogue around what a budget might look like hasn’t happened and it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen, which is irresponsible and unacceptable."
While the New Democrats want the government to delay a planned cut in the corporate tax rate from 11.5 to 10 per cent, the Tories say that would amount to a tax hike on job creators.
The Conservatives don't think the Liberals will take strong enough measures to rein in spending, but stopped short of saying they would vote against the budget if it postpones the corporate tax cut.
"Dalton McGuinty has to start eliminating his government’s alarming deficit, out of control spending and record of inaction," said Elliott.
"We need to take some serious steps right now in order to turn Ontario around, not wait for months down the road, not even wait for March."
The Tories want a legislated pay freeze for doctors, teachers and about one million public sector workers to help trim the deficit, saying they must make the same sacrifices as other workers.
"Ontario government employees are already earning 27 per cent more than their private sector counterparts for doing the same job," said Elliott.
"Our plan can save the province up to $2 billion over two years."
Horwath will travel across the province to hold her own hearings into the budget, but said it's too early to say the Liberals must delay the cut in corporate income taxes in exchange for NDP support.
"I think if we draw a line right now and say this is our bottom line, this is the take it or leave it point, then we’re being disingenuous about the fact that we’re going out to hear what Ontarians have to say," she said.
The Liberals need at least two Tories or New Democrats to vote in favour of the March budget or the government will be defeated and another election called.
"There’s no government that consults more vigorously with the public than ours on these kind of issues, so I’m sure that we’re continue to listen to the needs of Ontarians going into the buildup of this budget."