Ontario's 2016 budget was sent to translators before public consultations were finished — which the opposition parties say is proof the process of seeking input was really a "sham" and a "charade."
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The Feb. 25 budget came significantly earlier than any budget in recent memory, with the previous three introduced in April or May.
That meant that when the Liberal government's public consultations wrapped up at the end of January, only a few weeks were left until the budget was tabled in the Ontario Legislature.
The initial translation of preliminary budget drafts began on Jan. 27 this year, the Ministry of Finance said.
"This translation process then continues throughout the development of the budget as policy and fiscal decisions are made and chapters receive their final approval," spokesman Scott Blodgett said in an email. The final version was sent to the printers on Feb. 20.
Budget was not 'locked in'
Finance Minister Charles Sousa said the budget was not "locked in" until that final version was complete.
"Nothing was finalized until long after all these consultations were made," he said Monday. "We took advantage of many of those discussions."
The budget is a "living document," and work begins on the next budget the day after the previous one, he said. Sections based on figures from Statistics Canada and global economic conditions are already "embedded" and as edits happen, translations get updated, Sousa said.
"A lot of material was already compiled, but we didn't lock in the numbers or lock in the particulars until well after," he said.
Consultations cost money
The legislature's all-party finance committee, which heard pre-budget submissions from people across the province, is still in the process of completing its report.
The opposition members of the committee took Sousa to task when he appeared before them on Feb. 2. Progressive Conservative Julia Munro charged that the budget was already finished.
"Minister, with all due respect, it is clear you won't be considering any of the advice, tips or requests we have received from presenters during this committee," she said.
Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown said Monday those consultations cost money to run, and they shouldn't be a "charade."
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the initial translation date shows the consultations were a "sham."
"They had no intention of listening to what anybody had to say," she said. "They had their plan already figured out and they were going ahead with it regardless."