Canada

Controversy surrounds release of Ontario budget

The Ontario government's budget provides more money for seniors and students.

Ontario's Conservative government has unveiled a balanced budget that includes more tax cuts and record levels of spending. But the opposition is calling the $71-billion budget a pre-election scheme that voters shouldn't buy.

And even a leading economist says it's confusing and some of the numbers don't add up.

The government is also on the defensive for delivering the budget not in the Ontario legislature but at a private company owned by a Conservative party donor.

Before delivering her budget speech at Magna's automotive training facility, Ontario Finance Minister Janet Ecker met with reporters.

"This budget sticks to a plan that is working," she said. "It's creating jobs, economic growth, giving us the ability to make new important investments in schools, hospitals, to support groups like our seniors."

She also defending the venue and process used to present the budget.

"The legislature, as it should, will have the opportunity to debate, to consider budget legislation and estimates of the government," said Ecker.

But Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty says Premier Ernie Eves has kept MPPs out of Queen's Park since December to avoid scrutiny.

"This government will do anything in an effort to try to spin voters. He can run, but sooner or later he's going to have to call an election and he's going to have to face the public," he said.

Budget 'hard to make out': economist

There are $2.5 billion in personal and corporate income tax cuts over the next three years, including a property tax cut for seniors worth about $475 per household, regardless of their income.

And there's $4 billion in new spending for health, education, cities and public transit. Billions more are promised in the next two years.

But Don Drummond, chief economist at TD Financial, says the budget looks like a pre-election document that champions the Tories' record in Ontario since 1995.

"It's hard to make out what's in the budget, really, was my overwhelming impression. It's a little bit difficult to disentangle what's new in this budget as opposed to what they've done previously," he said.

Drummond also has some problems with the government's plans to balance its books by selling off $2 billion in assets. He calls it a vague and unlikely proposal, especially with the recent failure to sell off Hydro One.

Opposition leaders boycotted the budget speech because it was made at a private company, instead of Queen's Park. Some sat silently in the legislature in protest.

One MPP called the budget presentation a dog-and-pony show and paraded a dog and pony outside to make his point.

NDP Leader Howard Hampton calculates the tax cuts for the auto parts giant will be $34 million. As for Magna owner and Conservative party donor Frank Stronach, Hampton says he stands to save $3.5 million personally.

Meanwhile, Hampton says, people are having their homecare cut, cancer treatment delayed, and are paying more in tuition fees. "The majority of people, after this mirage of tax cuts, are paying more for just about everything."

But with an election looming the Ontario government is hoping its tax cuts and new spending will be popular. It's also hoping to overcome the controversy surrounding its decision to deliver the budget outside the legislature, something some legal experts have judged to be unconstitutional.

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