Liberals introduce caregivers bill
Ontario's minority Liberals used the last day in the legislature before a long winter break to introduce a bill that would fulfil yet another election promise.
The legislation aims to expand a program that provides up to eight weeks of unpaid leave for people caring for a loved one who is dying.
The change — contained in the Liberals' campaign platform — would extend the program to those who are looking after a family member who has a serious injury or illness, including cancer or a stroke.
The province is also calling on the federal government to make the caregiver leave time eligible for employment insurance benefits, which it did for the family medical leave plan.
"Ultimately, we like to believe that this will provide an opportunity for us as a province to help people be where they want to be, whether it's at home or in the hospital with somebody they love," said Labour Minister Linda Jeffrey.
The Liberals will need the support of at least one of the opposition parties to make sure the bill passes in the legislature, but don't appear to have built up much goodwill so far.
They refused to support an NDP initiative — backed by the Opposition Conservatives — to take the HST off home heating, and may block it from becoming law.
Yet the Liberals continue to push their own agenda, including a home renovation tax credit for seniors and a tuition cut for full-time university and college students.
The New Democrats tried to put another idea forward Thursday with a motion to put the brakes on corporate tax cuts, which they say will cost the treasury $800 million over two years.
But Premier Dalton McGuinty dismissed the proposal, noting that Manitoba's NDP government cut corporate taxes too.
"This is not a matter of ideology, it's a matter of doing what we need to do to strengthen our economy and ensure that we are competitive," he said in the legislature.
McGuinty's unwillingness to consider the opposition's ideas shows how arrogant the Liberals have become, despite a promise in the throne speech to work with their rivals, Horwath said.
"It is concerning," she said.
"I truly believe that the government should set a New Year's resolution to actually start walking the walk when it comes to their promise to work together and to actually start taking good ideas that are coming from the other benches more seriously."
But there may not be much to celebrate when they pop the cork.
The Liberals will have to make some tough choices in the new year as they grapple with a $16-billion deficit.
The spring budget is shaping up to be a political landmine of unpopular cost-cutting measures that could topple the government and trigger another election.
Former economist Don Drummond is expected to provide the government with recommendations on how to limit growth in government spending to one per cent per year. The Liberals have vowed to slow growth in education and health care to three per cent a year, which means other departments will likely face deep cuts.
At the same time, the Liberals' tax credit and tuition break will cost the treasury about half a billion dollars a year once fully implemented. McGuinty said the government has found room in its budget to offset the costs of its own promises — but not enough to fund those of the opposition parties.
The Progressive Conservatives insist a legislated wage freeze for public sector workers is needed to keep costs down and save the province about $2 billion a year. But the proposal was quashed in the legislature by the Liberals and NDP.
McGuinty continues to ignore good ideas to lift Ontario out of the red ink, Hudak charged.
"If I look at what the Liberals did to address the debt crisis and the jobs crisis, pretty much a lame-duck session, sadly," he said.
The legislative session resumes Feb. 21.