03/06/2012 01:26 EST | Updated 05/06/2012 05:12 EDT

Jim Flaherty: Dwight Duncan Says Federal Minister Putting Tax Breaks For Corporations Ahead Of Health Care And Education

TORONTO - Ontario's treasurer is accusing federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty of putting tax breaks for big corporations who buy box seats at hockey games ahead of health care and education.

Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan fired back Tuesday after Flaherty shot down a request to scrap a tax writeoff for businesses who buy tickets and luxury suites for sporting events.

It's about priorities and reclaiming millions of dollars the province needs to fund public services, Duncan said.

"Obviously, (Flaherty) sees tax breaks to corporations who buy box seats at hockey games and baseball games as more important than things like education and health care," he said.

The cash-strapped province, which is facing a $16-billion deficit this year, needs federal help to get rid of the tax break that allows companies to write off as much as 50 per cent of the cost. It also applies to other live performances such as theatre and concerts.

The Ottawa Senators — Premier Dalton McGuinty's hometown hockey team — warn the loss of the tax break could drive them out of business.

The Senators operate in a smaller market than the Toronto Maple Leafs, which have waiting lists for season tickets and suites, said team president Cyril Leeder.

Corporations lease most of the luxury suites at Ottawa's Scotiabank Place and hold most of the season tickets, he said.

Flaherty, who once held Duncan's post, rejected the province's request Monday and told the governing Liberals to get serious about their fiscal problems.

"I'm not into scapegoats," he said. "Ontario has fundamental budgeting problems. They have major spending problems built up over the last few years."

That's like the pot calling the kettle black, Duncan said.

"He's got a record deficit in Canada, a record debt-to-GDP," he said.

Even though Flaherty has put the kibosh on closing the tax "loophole," Duncan said he'll keep pushing Ottawa on other matters that could generate more revenue for Ontario.

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