TORONTO - Ontario's minority Liberal government may have adopted the New Democrats' call for a cut in auto insurance premiums to try to get their budget passed, but made it clear Monday they will campaign on the popular idea as if it was their own.
With a possible June election hanging in the balance, Liberal volunteers fanned out to 30 GO stations in the greater Toronto area Monday morning to hand out 25,000 brochures promoting the budget's pledge for a 15 per cent cut in auto insurance rates.
There's nothing unusual about Liberal caucus members paying for promotional material after a budget, said Finance Minister Charles Sousa, who had not seen the brochure.
"It's important for the people of Ontario to appreciate what this budget has and what it talks about," said Sousa.
"What is essential for all to understand is what's at stake, and this budget has a number of initiatives that are important to the people of Ontario, auto insurance being one."
The front side of the Liberal handout features a picture of Premier Kathleen Wynne under the title "Positive Change," along with a banner across the bottom proclaiming "15 per cent off auto insurance."
The other side talks about forcing insurers to offer lower rates, an idea the Liberals adopted to try to get NDP leader Andrea Horwath and her party to support the budget and avoid an election.
It is just one of a number of NDP ideas in the Liberal budget. Others include higher welfare rates, increased spending on homecare services and a new program to help young people find jobs.
Wynne said Monday they were all issues the government has in common with the New Democrats.
"We have been talking about those things all along," Wynne told Ottawa radio station CFRA. "She (Horwath) put some specific demands in place ... but they were all areas that we were already looking at."
Horwath said she's not worried the government is already campaigning as if the car insurance cuts were a Liberal idea.
"The government can take whatever actions it wants to try and convince the public, but I think what the public really wants to see is some real tools put in place to make sure that this isn’t all just smoke and mirrors and rhetoric," said Horwath.
"One thing we know for sure from the discussions we've been having with Ontarians, is they're tired of the status quo that wastes their money and doesn't give them the results they deserve."
The Progressive Conservatives said the glossy handouts promoting the minority government's budget are proof the Liberals will do anything to avoid an election.
"This seems to be a Liberal Party that is so desperate to cling to power they're going to use any kind of tactic to protect their jobs," said PC Leader Tim Hudak.
"I'm very concerned that we saw a potential $1 billion used to cancel gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga in order to save Liberal seats, and now they're going to spend $1 billion to buy the support of the NDP."
Horwath, who has been frustrating the Liberals by taking time to consult the public before deciding if the NDP can support the budget, said voters are fed up with the hundreds of millions of dollars wasted by the government.
People want to see proof the Liberals "actually learned their lessons on eHealth, Ornge, and on the gas plants, and that they’re prepared to be accountable," said Horwath.
Hudak, meanwhile, wants the NDP to support a non-confidence motion over the cancelled gas plants and defeat the minority Liberal government, automatically triggering an election.
The vote on the budget is expected in the last week of May, but the PC's "want of confidence motion" is not expected to ever be called for a vote in the legislature because the Liberals would have to agree to the debate first, and that won't happen.