Liberals cool to Horwath call for budget talks

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath says she is "reaching out" to the province's other two party leaders in a bid to end a budget standoff, but the Liberals seem cool to the offer.

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath says she is "reaching out" to the province's other two party leaders in a bid to end a budget standoff that has the province teetering on the brink of an election.

However, the Liberals are cool to the offer.

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath noted that all three party leaders say they don't want an election. (Sheryl Nadler/Canadian Press)

Horwath held a Saturday morning news conference outside Queen's Park where she said she is "opening the door to the conversation" with Premier Dalton McGuinty and Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak over their standoff.

McGuinty has said he will have no choice but to call a snap election if the NDP and the Conservatives do not back down from changes they have made to the minority Liberals' omnibus budget bill.

Horwath was short on specifics about what she would do to reach a solution, but said she was "being practical" about what Ontarians want. She noted that all three party leaders have said they don't want an election.

"If they don't want an election, I don't want an election, then there's no reason to have an election in Ontario, but what it's going to take is some serious conversations between the three of us," she said. "I think that's something that's achievable."

Liberals say time for negotiations over

The Liberals, however, said the time for negotiations has passed, arguing they already made concessions in cementing a deal with the New Democrats to pass the budget.

"The leader of the NDP last week threw that out the window and put us on some very thin ice. My only hope is … she's recognized that was an unwise move on her part," Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid said in a news conference to respond to Horwath.

Duguid, who called Horwath's overture "good news," said it would only happen if her party goes back to the budget as it existed before the changes the NDP made in a legislative committee Thursday, supported by the Conservatives.

The amendments include:

  • Limiting government's ability to privatize.
  • Changing rules around contract arbitration.
  • Strengthening environmental regulations.

The NDP had originally agreed to support the budget in exchange for a tax on incomes over $500,000.

"If Andrea Horwath is ready to now live up to her original word then we're all ears," Duguid said.

The Tories, meanwhile, have promised from the start to oppose the budget, and it's unclear whether they would join in any last-minute talks.

They have said the dispute is just the latest chapter in the Liberal-NDP "soap opera."

Duguid accused Tory Leader Tim Hudak of neglecting his responsibilities by "walking away" from the budget debate before it even began.

The parties are scheduled to vote on the budget Wednesday.

With files from The Canadian Press