Kathleen Wynne stands by big-spending pre-election budget

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is standing behind her Liberal government's decision to propose an unbalanced budget with less than three months to go before the provincial election in June.

'What people are saying to me is that they still need more support,' premier tells Ottawa Morning host

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne speaks to media at the Legislative Assembly of Ontario in Toronto in January. Wynne says she stands behind her government's decision to go into deficit with its pre-election budget. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is standing behind her Liberal government's decision to propose an unbalanced budget with less than three months to go before the provincial election.

​In an interview with CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Tuesday, Wynne told host Robyn Bresnahan that after balancing the budget for 2017-18, the government made the choice to plunge the province back into deficit by as much as $8 billion.

In a speech from the throne Monday, the provincial government hinted at significant new spending on a wide range of programs and issues. The budget will be unveiled next week.

"We've made an intentional decision, a deliberate decision, that the supports that people are looking for, the care that people need in the community to look after themselves and the people that they love, that that is the priority. And that if we don't make those investments ... we'll actually pay the price down the line," she said.

"Yes, there's an enormous amount of money already that goes into health care, but with the aging population, with the acceleration of change that we're seeing in our demographics, we need to continue to make investments, and that's exactly what we're going to do."

Asked whether the Liberals are spending the province into a corner, Wynne said the proposed investments "will benefit future generations."

On cannabis

As the federal government works to legalize cannabis later this year, Wynne said the province took a cautious approach with its LCBO-run Ontario Cannabis Stores.

"I think we are looking at a real culture shift and we need to be responsible and we need to be careful. We need to make sure that as we have dealt with alcohol in this province, that we have parameters around the control and so that's why we've rolled out a system that has as its priorities protecting young people and undercutting the black market," Wynne said.

"We've rolled out a process that I think is responsible. Will that change over time? Very likely. But the reality is that we need to make sure that we are responsible and careful and that we protect young people."

In an interview with Ottawa Morning last week, newly elected Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford said he's open to the idea of a free market for cannabis.

"I don't believe in the government sticking their hands in our lives all the time. I believe in letting the market dictate," he said.

Newly elected Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford is running against Wynne. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

On hydro

Asked Tuesday whether she understands why some people are angry about taking on $26 billion in debt for hydro rates to be reduced rates this year, Wynne said she comprehends the burden but that the system required investments.

"We needed to upgrade the system. We did that. We invested billions of dollars in order to have a reliable, clean electricity grid ... we've reduced pollution, and there's a cost associated with that," Wynne said.

We need to continue to work to take costs out of the [hydro] system.- Kathleen Wynne

"Previous generations, government after government — and that's Liberal, Conservative and NDP governments — should have made investments. They didn't, we've had to do that, and there's a cost associated with that. ... We need to spread that cost over a longer period of time."

Ontario's auditor general found the hydro cuts won't last and that about 10 years later, people will end up being charged more for hydro than the cost of producing it to pay back that debt, Bresnahan pointed out.

"So what we need to do is ... continue to work to reduce those costs into the future. ... In that long-term energy process we need to continue to work to take costs out of the system," Wynne said. Asked for an example, Wynne said technologies are being developed to store solar power, which is getting cheaper and cheaper.

"I can tell you that we will do everything in our power to reduce those costs over time, and there is new technology that's being developed that will help us to do that," she said.

CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning