Five questions with Andrea Horwath
The NDP leader spoke to the media on Friday about supporting the Ontario Liberal budget
This is an edited and abridged version of Horwath's statements to the media.
Why did your party support the budget, choosing not to force an election?
Andrea Horwath: People told us different things. Some people wanted an election, other people said its not time for an election, but regardless of which side of that debate people were on, when we consulted Ontarians one thing was clear: no matter who you were, you wanted to make sure that the government was going to be able to be held accountable.
Because we were able to achieve real results on home care, on auto insurance reductions to make life more affordable, making sure young people are getting a chance at real jobs and getting good training on the job, and making sure that those most vulnerable amongst us are going to be able to get to keep a little bit more of their money when they're in the workforce. Because we were able to bring that extra level of accountability we decided we're going to let this budget pass and actually support the budget in the next couple of weeks.
Weathering the storm
AH: For us, this has been all about working hard and trying to get things done for Ontarians. We know it's not easy, we had some criticism, but I can weather that criticism as long as I know that we're actually achieving what the people of Ontario expect us to do. Which is to actually get results for them. I'm pretty proud of the work the New Democrats have been able to do. The other opposition party decided, like last year, that they're not interested in getting results for people. They're interested in their own political wellbeing, their own political opportunity. For us, it's all about the people and making sure we can get things achieved for them.
What has the feedback been like since the NDP announced the support of the budget?
AH: The feedback has been pretty positive overall. A lot of people have said 'you did the right thing, even though we're frustrated with the government, we don't like the liberals, we would rather see some real things done for us.' People have recognized they have been on the back burner for far too long, and they also recognize that a minority parliament is an opportunity in this current situation to get things achieved for them. So, although there are still some people that are of the opinion that we should have had an election, I would say the feedback has been fairly positive.
What was the deciding factor to support the budget?
AH: In the end, it really was this last phase that we received so much criticism for. Because we were proud the budget reflected what we had brought forward as priorities that we knew Ontarians had hoped for. When the legislature was closed down back in the late fall, in the winter when McGuinty prorogued the house and shut down the legislature, we consulted Ontarians. So when these ideas that we had about auto insurance, and home care, and about jobs for youth, these didn't come up from us sitting around the table, they came from ideas that the people of Ontario had.
AH: So when we saw the budget table, and it reflected all of those ideas we thought that was pretty positive. We thought that was reflective of the hard work we had done, and Ontarians had done in the consultations. We had to go back to Ontarians because we knew that there was serious anger out there, serious frustration. We knew the people were losing trust with the government. And so we took that time, it took us a couple weeks, to go back and consult. I can tell you this: if we'd had gone forward supporting that budget without there being any new accountability measures on behalf of the people of Ontario, they would have never forgiven us, and that was not a risk I was prepared to take. Ontarians demanded that we make this government more accountable, and now we've put in place some tools if you will, that will ensure that not only this government, but governments into the future for Ontario will be held more accountable - there will be tools there to help us do that.
How is the budget going to benefit Hamilton?
AH: There's a couple of things that I hope are going to help Hamilton in a positive way. One will be home care. I know my own constituency office gets lots of complaints about homecare particularly in the early parts of the year, January, February, March, because the agencies are at the end of their fiscal period, and they're squeezing their last dollars, they're cutting back hours, and we know that we have alternative level of care patients in hospital that could perhaps get some home care help, relieve some pressure there. We know that patients are not getting the kinds of services that they need at home; the number of hours, or for that matter a quick turnaround in getting the supports that they need. So I think that will help. Youth jobs, and again that's a big one, I know that there is a lot of young people here in Hamilton who are struggling to find work, and what this jobs plan does is it actually requires employers to provide a little bit of training on the job as well.
Different aspects of the budget will help Hamilton in different ways
AH: Its not just a matter of hiring a young person and getting a wage subsidy to help do that, but it actually provides an opportunity that requires the employer to provide some job skills on the job training, so that's positive, too. The auto insurance rates, I got to tell you, Hamilton is one of those communities, at least parts of Hamilton, that have rates that are much higher than average in Ontario. It's the way they geographically look at the auto insurance risks, if you will, in the industry. It's a practice that we think needs to be cleaned up quite a bit. But in the meanwhile, the 15% overall reduction is going to help Hamiltonians who have a tough time paying their bills, like everybody else, to actually make ends meet.
What's the next step?
AH: The promises now exist in the form of a budget which hasn't quite passed yet, but likely will in the next couple of weeks. But once that budget has passed, our job then becomes making sure that the budget is just not a bunch of empty promises. So we are going to be very vigilant in holding the government (responsible) and making sure that they're actually moving on the homecare front, that they're actually reducing the auto insurance rates, and that they're actually making good on the jobs plan for youth.