Toronto

Ontario NDP drops push to cut HST from home heating

The Ontario NDP is withdrawing a push to exempt home heating bills from the harmonized sales tax, in a significant concession that ratchets up the pressure on the governing Liberals ahead of a budget vote that could trigger a provincial election.

Liberals concede it's a 'significant' move

NDP leader drops demand to have HST eliminated from home heating bills. 2:23

The Ontario NDP is withdrawing a push to exempt home heating bills from the harmonized sales tax, in a significant concession that ratchets up the pressure on the governing Liberals ahead of a budget vote that could trigger a provincial election.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said in a Thursday morning news conference that it's become clear in recent days that Premier Dalton McGuinty "strongly disagrees" with an HST exemption for home heating.

"Now, I hope that over the term of this minority government, I can convince the premier that he’s wrong. But I have to be frank. I just don’t think that that’s going to happen within the next couple of days," she said.

"And for that reason, I am letting it be known today that we don’t expect the HST to come off home heating in this budget."

Horwath said that a number of other NDP demands tabled in the leadup to the vote on the provincial budget next Tuesday — including a tax increase for the wealthiest in the province — remain in play.

The ball is now in McGuinty's court, she said.

"Mr. McGuinty has to make a choice. Is he going to stand with the mom that needs a child-care space for her son or daughter? Or is he going to stand with the millionaire? Is he going to stand with health care improvements, or with millionaires?"

She criticized both the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives for being inflexible when it comes to the budget. The Progressive Conservatives announced before the budget was tabled that they would not be supporting it.

"If you are truly committed to having a conversation, you have to be prepared to give and take," Horwath said.

Still a number of disagreements

Liberal Finance Minister Dwight Duncan called the NDP's concession on HST "significant."

"It was an expensive item, one that we philosophically disagreed on. And I know they felt strongly about it and I think it shows that they're willing to continue to work through at least until Tuesday," he said.

Duncan noted that there are still "significant points of difference" between the parties. He wouldn't say if the Liberals would respond to the concession by acceding to the NDP demand to raise the provincial tax rate for Ontarians making more than $500,000 by two percentage points.

Under the NDP demands, "there still continues to be considerable increase in spending, even assuming we were to agree to the tax increase. We have to make sure we stay on track to balance the budget," he said.

The NDP has requested funding for additional child-care spaces, a $250-million job creation tax credit and help for the horse racing and tourism sectors, among other things. 

"We'll respond in totality to their requests sometime obviously before the vote on Tuesday," Duncan said, without providing further details.

The Liberals need two additional votes from opposition members in order for their budget to be guaranteed to pass and to avoid the second provincial election in less than seven months.