McGuinty says NDP deal makes budget 'stronger'

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is convinced the deal he struck with the NDP to keep his government alive, also makes the provincial budget stronger.
The NDP abstained from voting on the budget proposed by the Liberal government on Tuesday, allowing it to pass. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is convinced the deal he struck with the NDP to keep his government alive, has made the provincial budget stronger.

The governing Liberals agreed to impose a two per cent surtax on the wealthiest people in the province, in exchange for a guarantee that the New Democrats would let the confidence motion on the budget pass.

The New Democrats did just that on Tuesday, when they abstained from the vote in the Ontario legislature, allowing the confidence motion to pass 52 to 37. All of the Opposition Progressive Conservatives voted against it and the Liberals supported it.

Hours later, McGuinty told CBC Radio’s Here and Now that the New Democrats kept to their word.

"I didn’t get any kind of an agreement or commitment on the part of the NDP, in terms of what they would do, save and accept that they would not impede passage of our budget motion," he said.

If the Liberals had not been able to reach a deal with the New Democrats, Ontario might have been headed for its second election in less than seven months. For now, the minority government survives to fight another day.

The premier said the talks between himself and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath that led to the deal were both "respectful" and productive.

Horwath put forward several proposals for the budget, some of which the government rejected, McGuinty said.

"We need to hold the line on new spending," he said.

Liberals say yes to surtax aimed at wealthy Ontarians

The most eye-opening concession the government granted was a forthcoming surtax for Ontarians earning more than $500,000 annually.

"I said yes to that on a couple of conditions," McGuinty said.

"Number one, it would be a fixed, five-year lifespan and secondly that all of the revenues that we would derive from that new tax would be devoted to accelerating our plan to eliminate the deficit.

"So, they wanted a new tax, we wanted to eliminate the deficit, so that’s where we came together."

The catch is that the Liberals won’t be using that money to fund benefits and programs. Instead, they want to use it to bring down the deficit, which exceeds $15 billion at the moment.

Under the deal struck with the NDP, the Liberals will also increase Ontario Works payments by one per cent and also provide $20 million in "transition funds" to help rural and northern hospitals achieve needed efficiencies.

After working with the NDP, McGuinty said he was convinced the two parties had made the budget "even stronger."

New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath said her party still has issues with the budget, but decided it was better to work with the government rather than head into an election.

"There are many things in that budget we don't like," she said.

"It remains a Liberal budget, but what we were able to do is bring some fairness for Ontarians."

PCs protest surtax, support for budget

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak predicted that the money that would be generated by the coming surtax on wealthy Ontarians would end up funding government programs and not paying down the provincial deficit.

"There's a long list of new spending programs they've brought forward that we can't afford," Hudak said.

Some Tories chided the New Democrats for abstaining from the vote, making reference to their choice to stay seated in the legislature on Tuesday morning.

Lisa MacLeod, the Progressive Conservative education critic, tweeted that MPPs are sent to Queen’s Park "to take a stand, not stay seated," while Huron-Bruce MPP Lisa Thompson tweeted that the NDP "proved they cannot stand for Ontarians."

However, the Tories were facing digs from Liberals who suggested the Official Opposition is losing track of its priorities.

Ted McMeekin, the provincial minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs, tweeted that the "NDP is engaged" while the Progressive Conservatives are "playing games" in the legislature.

Liberal MPP Kevin Flynn tweeted that the Tories are "quickly becoming irrelevant" at Queen’s Park.

With files from The Canadian Press