Wynne, Horwath trade barbs over Liberal majority budget

Life at the Ontario Legislature has mostly been civil since the Liberals won a majority government last month. But Premier Kathleen Wynne and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath have taken off the gloves over the budget the government has brought forward for the second time.

Parliamentary 'niceties' take backseat as premier battles the 'Steeltown Scrapper'

Premier Kathleen Wynne has been trading budget-related barbs with NDP Leader Andrea Horwath in recent days. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

If question period these summer days at Queen's Park were a soccer match, Speaker Dave Levac would be said to have been issuing "yellow" cards to some MPPs — a warning about their un-parliamentary behaviour.

But, no "red" cards so far and, that has meant no escorts out of the House for MPPs with a serious-looking Sergeant-at-Arms at their side — sword at the ready in case the member is reluctant to leave.

By and large, even in this post-election period, when tempers could have easily flared over the "realities of June 12" — the election results — the daily discourse has had a civil tone to it.

Generous comments

When things un-parliamentary have been said either directly or as a taunt across the floor, MPPs have quickly responded "withdraw Speaker" in the language of legislature.

There have been generous comments by the veterans to rookies making their first speech or asking their first question.

That attitude has extended in other ways across the aisle as, for example, when last week Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca congratulated the NDP’s newly elected MPP for Sudbury, Joe Cimino, who is his party's transportation critic. The fact that he didn't provide Cimino the answer he was looking for is another matter.

Health Minister Eric Hoskins offered a ministry briefing to the NDP MPP for Windsor West, Lisa Gretzky, about the government's plans for a mega-hospital in her riding. However, with Hoskins reading from notes in his cabinet binder, one was left to wonder who really needed the briefing.

Ministry briefing offered

In the first week of the session, Finance Minister Charles Sousa not only congratulated the newly re-elected and, newly appointed NDP finance critic Catherine Fife, he also offered her a ministry briefing.

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has traded jibes all last week with the Ontario premiere about the provincial budget. (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Canadian Press)

Then there was Conservative MPP Bill Walker, who sent the Agriculture minister a detailed letter about a concern he had before he asked Jeff Leal a question about it in the House.

That kind of thing has happened in the past, but not often, and Leal quite correctly acknowledged in his answer that Walker had written him first.

But the new "harmony in the House" post-election has not extended to Kathleen Wynne and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.

Theirs has been an "up-and-down" relationship. But they have always been combative during question period and the election result certainly hasn't changed that. If anything, it's now more intense.

Horwath and Wynne traded jibes all last week about the provincial budget.

The NDP leader constantly refers to the "Trojan Horse Budget" from the Liberals that is in her words "full of holes." Wynne fires back that she "has a plan" — a subtle suggestion that Horwath does not.

"I don’t know whether the leader of the third party [Horwath] quite understands the budget," the premier told the legislature last Monday.

The following day, Wynne responded to questions from Horwath who suggested that "massive cuts [to the public sector] are hidden in the budget" by telling the legislature that Horwath is only interested in "simplistic analysis" because "that's easier for her to talk about."

"What New Democrats are looking for is the truth," Horwath said in responding to Wynne.

Accusations fly

The premier would also accuse Horwath of "stealing" the Liberal election plan, adding it was still "disjointed and disparate" and would have gone further in terms of spending cuts.

Wynne would use question period during the week to say the NDP leader is "making it up" with her suggestion of massive cuts to the civil service and the sale of government assets, including the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO).

However, Horwath has fired back time and time again that Wynne is not telling the truth about what’s in the budget, and that it's time for her "to come clean" with voters.

To which, in an unusual moment of post-election arrogance, Wynne reminded Horwath that voters rejected her "disparate, disconnected list of ideas," and voted for "her plan."

And so it went all week long — the back and forth between the two women, the parliamentary niceties put aside — both scoring political points.

With the budget debate beginning this week and its passage assured as early as Wednesday, no one should expect the Wynne-Horwath war to cool down. In fact, while the two still appear to be fighting the June election campaign, they may also be foreshadowing the tone of the next provincial election.

Wynne will be there and Horwath certainly believes she deserves to be.

That decision still rests in the hands of her party. But if her combative, no-holds-barred approach to dealing with the Liberals and their majority is any indication, New Democrats are being shown Horwath is prepared to fight to take on Wynne one more time. And she’s up to the challenge.

Now, it's up to the Conservatives to decide where they fit in and with whom?

But, that decision is a way's off.

So for now, the battle will rage on between the premier and the woman they still call the "Steeltown Scrapper."

About the Author

Robert Fisher

Provincial Affairs Specialist

A commentator with decades of experience covering Queen's Park, Robert Fisher writes about politics for CBC.ca. He is an award-winning broadcast journalist with more than 30 years of experience in public and private radio and television.


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