Premier Kathleen Wynne and Finance Minister Charles Sousa have delivered what can only be described as the best NDP budget Ontario’s ever seen from a Liberal government.
And yet, it may not be enough for NDP leader Andrea Horwath – though it’s certainly enough for Wynne, who’s clearly prepared to change the budget’s cover to a Liberal campaign document and take it to the voters in a general election.
The premier, in a recent speech to her party, preached impatience as "a good thing" for governments.
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She admits she’s impatient to get things done – transit and infrastructure improvements, a "made in Ontario" pension plan, improvements in education and health care, better pay for daycare and support workers.
A tax on the rich. All issues addressed – in some detail or not as the case may be – in her government’s second budget called: “Building Opportunity – Securing Our Future.”
The “our” is about the province. But, it could also be, in a sense, about the Liberals.
Put up or shut up
Wynne is convinced the budget provides “opportunity” for Ontarians and she wants to get going on that agenda.
But, standing in the way is Horwath, since PC leader Tim Hudak has taken himself and his party out of the debate, rejecting the budget’s direction – as he has in the past two years – long before the document was even tabled.
So, Wynne’s impatience now extends directly to Horwath.
The premier wrote the NDP leader shortly after the budget was formally unveiled in the Legislature, telling her to, essentially, put up or shut up.
Wynne made it clear to Horwath she wants to proceed now with, among other things, pension reform.
She has given the NDP leader a week (until May 8th) to make up her mind: either it's "yes or no" on the budget and if it’s no, then an election won’t be far behind.
Unlike a year ago, there have been no talks between the two party leaders, though Wynne wants one next week.
Horwath has so far been silent on the letter.
But this morning, she will offer up some budget reaction after strangely, even to some members of her own caucus, she took a pass on attending yesterday’s budget lock-up where dozens of reporters were a captive audience waiting to report even her expected comments that she would need some time to digest the budget. This allowed herself to be verbally slammed by Sousa and Hudak who relished saying Horwarth was AWOL, as New Democrats were left to question her strategy, just as they did on her slow response to the government’s decision to raise the minimum wage.
So some within her caucus, even with the “Dear Andrea” letter from Wynne, expect her to do the slow reveal on this budget and if past performance is any indication, offer a huffy ‘I won’t be intimidated by the premier’ on the budget or, anything else.
But, whatever Horwath decides and it may well be to force an election over the budget and the gas plants and other spending scandals, the NDP leader already knows labour isn’t so sure she should.
UNIFOR – the old CAW and CEP unions – says the budget “deserves NDP support.”
“(It) makes a difference in the lives of working families,” said president Jerry Diaz.
“The bottom line is that this is a decent budget.”
Diaz like so many others in the Ontario labour movement want the budget to pass to keep the Liberals in power and Hudak out of power.
Disunity in the NDP
Horwath’s budget decision already comes with a lot of risk.
But imagine if one of the province’s, the country’s, largest unions decided to sit on its hands in the next election or, worst still for Horwath, decided to vote Liberal to ensure Hudak doesn’t even get close to getting the keys to the premier’s second-floor office in the Legislature.
The NDP caucus – united in public – is less so in private. Some MPPs complain Horwath has shut them out of budget/election decisions and only quietly smile when asked: if she brings down Wynne and fails to improve NDP fortunes, would she face questions about staying on as leader after the next election?
But, Horwath is a bit of a gambler, convinced that "campaigns matter" and that this one will too and, that she can move out of third place, pushing Hudak there.
Not everyone around her is as convinced that their third-place standing in current polls can change dramatically and worry that instead of increasing seats, the NDP may lose seats, especially in the Toronto area.
So, even with a budget that she could have written, Horwarth may decide – for a variety of reasons – to turn thumbs down on it and test the electoral waters.
Then again, she might not.
She may also let us know a little bit more about where she’s going later this morning: back to work or, hopping on a bus with her picture emblazoned on its side.
For now, only she knows.