Robert Fisher: How Ontario's budget drama will end

The sparring between Kathleen Wynne and Andrea Horwath over Ontario's budget appears unlikely to end in an election call.

Horwath wants re-writes but Wynne is set to say 'that's a wrap'

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne applauds Finance Minister Charles Sousa as he begins to deliver his first budget speech. (Nathan Dennette/Canadian Press)

Don’t you just hate it when someone tells you how a movie ends?

Well I’m about to tell you how another movie ends — one we’ve all seen before — and it’s playing now at Queen’s Park.

It is what the premier has called "Political Ping Pong" starring NDP Leader Andrea Horwath with Kathleen Wynne playing a supporting role and PC Leader Tim Hudak as the heavy whose only line in the entire film is "No."

No to the government’s Throne Speech. No to the provincial budget and no to negotiating with Wynne even though he says they have had some nice talks in her second-floor Queen’s Park office — an office he desperately wants to re-decorate in shades of Tory blue.

So, this movie begins weeks before the baritone voice of Finance Minister Charles Sousa is drowned out by Liberal applause for his budget.

Leading up to that scene on the floor of the legislature was a lot of work behind the scenes by Horwath to re-write the script to include NDP ideas: better and faster care for seniors, a youth employment program and a cut to car insurance premiums.

Horwath pushes for changes

Wynne and Sousa quickly did the re-write, hoping that by following the script they could avoid starting a reality series called The Election.

But Horwath was not satisfied. She wanted a bigger role in the movie but to get that she decided to look for script writers outside Queen’s Park in Cornwall, Kenora, Windsor, Hamilton and Toronto.

So she set up a 1-800 "call Andrea" phone line and a special website.

The response, she says, was overwhelming: "tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people" called and wrote about what they wanted in the movie.

For the NDP leader, the question was how to tell the premier, since they weren’t talking privately anymore and were just jawing at each other during question period.

"New Democrats have been clear about what we want," said Horwath in the days leading up to the budget. At one point the premier forcefully responded that she would "not be held hostage to an arbitrary list" and that if it had to happen, she was ready for an election.

But Horwath decided to turn up the heat and release new ideas, one at a time, under the heading: "accountability."

Horwath called on Wynne to establish a "financial accountability office" that would watch taxpayers’ money before it was spent and not after, as is now the case with the provincial auditor-general.

Wynne said it was an "interesting" idea and, a day later, "not a bad idea" though she wants some face time with Horwath to avoid having these "budget asks" handed out by the NDP to the media on a daily basis.

Undeterred by the premier’s "Andrea, it’s time for a decision" edict, Horwath was back at it last Friday, making new again what was old.

The NDP wants the provincial ombudsman to be given the authority to investigate hospitals, ambulance services, community care, seniors and long-term care facilities. But there was more.

Horwath, who has seen her demand for more government spending on seniors care included in the budget, is not happy the Liberals have ignored her post script on the issue — that seniors get the care they need within a five-day waiting period.

Horwath says by the end of this week her consultation process on the budget with Ontarians will be at an end and, it’ll be time for a meeting with the premier.

But hanging over that meeting and Horwath’s final decision on the budget is another of this movie’s important supporting actors, the president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, Sid Ryan.

He’s told Horwath privately and publicly to support the budget and forget, for the time being, any thought of a provincial election.

Wynne expects NDP's support on budget

Armed with that, and some solid polling numbers, the Liberals have toughened their approach to the NDP's request for script changes.

At campaign-style stop in Brampton, the premier told reporters "on the merits of the budget as it stands now, I would expect their support" as she reacted to Horwath’s latest budget "asks."

So fast-forward beyond that meeting and what will likely be more rhetoric in the Legislature from both sides before this movie wraps up.

It’ll all end much like my favourite movie Casablanca.

The theme music swells as Wynne and Horwath walk together outside Queen’s Park. The premier turns to Horwath and says: "Andrea, I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship."

Music fades. Cue budget motion vote.

"All those in favour?" Budget motion approved.

The final scene — over a long list of NDP credits — shows campaign buses being put away for another day maybe in the fall.