02/20/2013 11:13 EST | Updated 04/22/2013 05:12 EDT

No sign of change in legislature dominated by gas plants, budget wrangling

TORONTO - What's old is new again at the Ontario legislature.

Business picked up Wednesday exactly where it left off four months ago when the legislature was shut down: finger-pointing over cancelled gas plants, budget wrangling and an increasing likelihood that very little will get done.

But Premier Kathleen Wynne clung to the hope that her minority Liberals can still find common ground with the opposition parties, even though the Tories have slammed her throne speech and the New Democrats have issued a budget ultimatum.

Even a resurrected contempt motion over the gas plants — the first order of business in the legislature — didn't change Wynne's tune.

"The political parties are very important, obviously I'm part of the political process, but they are not the be all and the end all," she said Wednesday.

"We are here because of the people who sent us here, and it's their concerns that we have to reflect, and their concerns are across the board."

The Liberal government will stay afloat for now because the NDP has agreed to vote in favour of the throne speech.

But NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she'll withdraw that support if the spring budget doesn't meet her demands — which could trigger an election.

"The premier's got some fundamental choices that she has to make," she said.

"I've made it clear what I think the priorities of this province should be and what I think will help the average families in Ontario."

People often bring demands to the table, but that's just the starting point, Wynne said.

As talks continue, they'll find some common ground, such as tackling youth unemployment, she said.

The Progressive Conservatives have already said they won't support the throne speech and showed no sign of embracing a Liberal budget either.

They launched their first salvo by accusing Wynne of backpedalling on a public-sector wage freeze to fight Ontario's $12-billion deficit, saying it wasn't even mentioned in the speech.

"I understand why the public sector union leaders were all smiles yesterday," Opposition Leader Tim Hudak said in the legislature. "It looks like spending is going to continue."

Wynne said there are wage constraints in place and that's what her government will continue to pursue. But she didn't directly answer Hudak's question about whether wage freezes are now off the table.

"Wage constraint is in place," Wynne said. "We have been working on that and we are having success."

Finance Minister Charles Sousa added fuel to the fire when he wouldn't utter the words "wage freeze" outside the legislative chamber.

"All of us have to do our part, and I am encouraging that our discussions going forward will result in zero," he said.

But Sousa managed to find the words a few hours later, when his staff issued a statement.

"The fiscal plan contains no room for incremental increases in compensation," he said in the statement. "That's a wage freeze."

Sousa said he will consider the NDP's demands, which include a 15 per cent cut to auto insurance premiums, $30 million to eliminate homecare waiting lists and a guarantee that no seniors would have to wait more than five days for homecare.

They also want the Liberals to close $1.3 billion in corporate tax loopholes and spend $200 million to create jobs for youth.

The throne speech touched on those issues, but the NDP said it was too vague and didn't provide any details.

Sousa said he'll also reach out to the Tories and the broader public ahead of the budget.

"In the end, this budget has to reflect the needs of the public," he said.

"Every decision has to be around the creation of jobs, and I think those are things that we share in common and those are the things I'll be addressing."

But the Tories haven't shown much enthusiasm for budget talks, saying they need to see a major shift from the Liberals to create jobs and reduce the province's staggering debt.

Hudak won't say the word "election," but he has said the only way to rescue the province from financial ruin is to "change the team."