TORONTO - Ontario's opposition parties say the Liberal government will have to slash programs, raise taxes, or both in Thursday's provincial budget if they hope to eliminate a $10.9-billion deficit by 2017-18 as promised.
Premier Kathleen Wynne did not rule out a tax hike when asked Wednesday about the budget, which she said would expand on last year's plan to spend $130 billion over 10 years on transit, roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
The Liberals released two major pieces of the budget last week, announcing they will sell 60 per cent of Hydro One and will impose a new tax on beer to raise $100 million annually while allowing 350 grocery stores to sell the beverage.
Progressive Conservative finance critic Vic Fedeli says credit rating agencies have warned they don't think the province can balance the books in just two years, and he doesn't believe the Liberal government can curb expenditures.
He says the Liberals increased the deficit in each of the last two years, and more than doubled Ontario's debt in 11 years, because "they're addicted to spending."
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath says she's worried the budget will include more cuts to health care that will force hospitals to layoff more nurses. She's also predicting the cash-strapped government will reduce funding in education.
The Liberals added more than $20 billion to Ontario's debt in the past year alone because of the $10.5-billion in annual interest payments needed to service the debt, which was projected at more than $287 billion for 2014-15, said Fedeli.
"Ontario's debt continues to grow faster than the province's economy," he said.
The Hydro One sale is expected to generate about $9 billion, $5 billion of which will be used to pay hydro debt, and the Liberals will change the law so they can allocate the remaining $4 billion to infrastructure projects.
Wynne has no mandate from voters to privatize Hydro One, which will drive up electricity rates even higher, said Horwath.
"The Liberals ran on a certain plan in 2014 and they're implementing the plan that the Conservatives ran on, and I think the people of Ontario need to know that," she said.
The budget will have more on the infrastructure spending announced last year as well as details on how the sale of Hydro One will free up money for transit and infrastructure, added Wynne.
"We have laid out clearly what our plan is," she said. "We've made the announcement that we will see reflected in the budget about the review of (Crown) assets and about how we are going to realize $4 billion from those assets."
Wynne took a shot at the Harper government for putting a new infrastructure fund in its budget Tuesday of $750 million over two years, which the province called "crumbs" compared with Ontario's plan.
"The building of infrastructure, transportation infrastructure like transit, roads and bridges, that is a cornerstone of our economic plan," said Wynne. "I believe that they have missed the opportunity to actually make the kinds of investments in our present economic prosperity and our future economic growth."
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