Finance Minister Dwight Duncan lashed out at the "right-wing media" Wednesday, accusing them of intentionally misleading people by labelling Ontario a "have-not" province.
Ontario will receive more than $2 billion in equalization payments this year, second only to Quebec, and jurisdictions that receive the payments are frequently described as "have-not" provinces.
However, Duncan noted Ontario contributes $6 billion to the program that is designed to ensure similar levels of government services in all areas of Canada, and gets only a fraction of that money back.
"It is completely dishonest to use that term have-not. It's intellectually dishonest and factually dishonest," said Duncan.
"The intellectual dishonestly, particularly of the right wing in this country and the right-wing media, is that they don't tell the truth. It's kind of like Rupert Murdoch."
Reporters asked Duncan specifically which media outlets he considered right wing, and the veteran Liberal cabinet minister started by saying it was the owners of "all the small dailies across Ontario, our television networks," and then he fired off a longer list.
"Let me go down the [Highway] 401: the Windsor Star, the Chatham Daily News, the London Free Press, the Toronto Sun, the National Post, Global (Television)," he said. "I could keep going down highways in Ontario. All of them take editorial positions in my view that are conservative, very conservative."
The Opposition couldn't believe Duncan launched an attack on the media, especially with an Ontario election less than three months away.
"I was amazed, amazed at that litany that the finance minister just went through when he criticized [the media]," said Progressive Conservative critic Bob Bailey. "The Liberal party is looking for anything, they're so desperate, that they're criticizing the media, saying you guys have got the story wrong."
While the London Free Press, which is owned by Sun Media, has been accused of being left wing in the past, the paper's editor-in-chief says it has traditionally been "a little right of centre in editorial stance."
"That has stood through several changes of ownership in my time here and for decades before that and I don't see it changing any time soon," Joe Ruscitti said in an email.
PostMedia, which owns the National Post and other papers named by Duncan, did not immediately return calls and emails seeking comment on the minister's accusations. Sun Media, which owns the Toronto Sun and other papers named by Duncan, declined to comment.
The finance minister went on to say Canada's equalization funding formula "is absolutely crazy," before lashing out at a journalist who questioned why Ontario was receiving payments now when it hadn't in the past.
"Equalization has nothing to do with the strength of the economy," he said. "It has everything to do with who has oil and natural gas and who doesn't. You are simply being dishonest, as is anybody who pumps that tripe."
Duncan had called a news conference to deliver a "progress report" showing the Liberal government had made life more affordable for average voters with income tax cuts and a series of tax credits, something he admitted has been a tough sell.
"We have to do a better job of explaining it, absolutely, and that's part of the reason why I'm here," he said. "We're going to be talking more and more about this because the opposition simply aren't telling the truth, and they're certainly not laying out, in my view, a credible plan."
He flatly rejected opposition claims that family budgets are shrinking because of the Liberals' tax policies, including the move to a single 13 per cent harmonized sales tax.
"The opposition parties are misleading people by suggesting that family finances in Ontario are experiencing challenges because of our policies," said Duncan. "In fact, they ought to quit telling people lies."
The Tories and New Democrats said the Liberal tax credits didn't come close to offsetting the impact of the HST on everyday life, especially on electricity, home heating and gasoline.
"The tax credits that they brag about are fine and dandy, but they don't make up for the increases in costs that they foisted on the people of this province, the HST, rising hydro rates, rising gas prices, the fact that the HST on top of those rising prices," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. "The government has ... only made things worse."
Both opposition parties have promised to remove the eight per cent provincial portion of the HST from hydro and home heating bills, although the NDP would take until 2016 to take the HST off of electricity bills.