4 key questions about the coming Ontario budget

On Thursday afternoon, Premier Kathleen Wynne's government will table its first budget since she took the reins of the Ontario Liberal Party just over three months ago.

Once again, minority Liberals will look to support from New Democrats for survival

Ontario's governing Liberals will table their first budget under Premier Kathleen Wynne on Thursday afternoon. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

On Thursday afternoon, Premier Kathleen Wynne's government will table its first budget since she took the reins of the Ontario Liberal Party just over three months ago.

While the premier has called on opposition parties to read the final budget before passing judgment, Tim Hudak's Progressive Conservatives have already made it clear they won't be supporting it.

That has left the New Democrats in the driver's seat, able to decide whether to push the province into an election or to support what the government is offering.

If this scenario sounds familiar to Ontarians, that's because it's exactly what happened last year. The minority Liberals are once again looking to what the NDP wants, though this time around, the premier has said the government won't be "held hostage" to specific demands.

What will the 2013 budget look like?

The budget won't be officially unveiled until Thursday afternoon, but the government has certainly given broad previews of what it will contain.

The Liberals have said there will be nearly $300 million earmarked for helping young people get on a clear career path in Ontario. Wynne has said a key part of the government’s proposed program would be a wage subsidy for employers who provide work or training for up to six months.

The budget will also contain details on steps the government will take to lower auto insurance rates, which is something the New Democrats have been looking for the Liberals to deliver. Finance Minister Charles Sousa said the government wants to push rates down "quickly," but it is not precisely clear how rapidly that can happen.

Ahead of the budget, Sousa has said that the province's 2012-13 deficit is now estimated at $9.8 billion, some $5 billion less than had previously been projected.

Asked Wednesday if the budget would raise taxes, Sousa said it will explain "how we're going to control spending, how we're going to engage and increase GDP growth and how we're going to maintain our tax at the low levels that they are now."

Is there any way to get the Tories to support the budget?

It appears not.

The Progressive Conservatives have already vowed to vote against the budget, which they say is being brought forward by a government that simply needs to go.

"Fundamentally if you believe your house is crumbling down, if it’s falling apart at the foundations, you don’t simply settle to change the wallpaper and a new coat of paint," Hudak told reporters on Wednesday.

"You rebuild the structure, you make it stronger, you start anew."

The Tories moved a non-confidence motion against the Liberals earlier this week, which can’t go forward without the other parties' consent. The premier has said that the budget will give opposition parties the chance to express their level of confidence in the government.

Could the NDP pay a political price for supporting the budget?

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said that she needs to see what is contained in the budget and her party will then have to consider its contents.

"We're going to take our time and be very thoughtful about this," she said Wednesday.

Hudak suggested Wednesday that it seems illogical for the New Democrats to continue to prop up a minority government that has disappointed them.

"I think the NDP have to ask themselves: Do they really believe that keeping a government going that has crossed the line towards corruption, where the NDP comes in the house every day and says that they’ve lied, they’re corrupt, that they blew all this money — are they going then shrug their shoulders and say: ‘We’re going to keep this act going?" Hudak said.

"It’s time for change."

What happens next?

A vote on the budget motion will likely occur within one to three weeks. The Liberals will need the support of at least one opposition party for it to pass.

But a separate vote will then take place on the budget bill, so that it can be implemented.

Last year, this part of the process dragged on for weeks as the Liberals and New Democrats squabbled and adjustments were made.

The 2012 budget finally passed 52-35 in the middle of June and an election was averted. The New Democrats simply abstained from voting that day, while the Progressive Conservatives voted against it.

As then premier Dalton McGuinty told reporters after the budget finally passed, he believed that "in the end, working together, we found a way to make our minority government work."

This time around the Liberals have fewer seats in the legislature. At the moment, the minority government has 51 seats in the 107-seat legislature, while the Progressive Conservatives have 36 and the Democrats 18. Two seats remain vacant following the departures of Dwight Duncan and Chris Bentley, both of whom resigned from the legislature in recent months.

With files from The Canadian Press