Ontario Budget: Understanding Horwath's Additional "asks", and Hudak's non-participation

May 15, 2013 by  

The pundits have spoken, and they are unanimous: Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath simply cannot take yes for an answer, and Ontario Progressive Conservative party leader Tim Hudak won’t make budget demands because he wants an election. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I think those conclusions are incorrect. Here’s why.

Andrea Horwath: Having her cake, and eating it too

Prior to the release of the budget, Andrea Horwath made a number of demands, including demand for a legislated 15% reduction in auto insurance premiums. It is widely accepted that Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne gave Ms Horwath everything she demanded.

However, her demands having been made part of the budget, Ms Horwath has continued to add not “demands” but additional budget items curiously labeled “asks”. She will not “draw a line in the sand” with respect to the asks, she says.

This has left the pundits either wondering what could be Ms Horwath’s point in making additional budget requests, or concluding that she is just trying to keep her name in the paper on a daily basis. “Why won’t she just make it clear whether she’ll vote in favour of the budget, or vote against it”, the pundits say, along with the Liberals and the PCs.

I submit to you that Ms Horwath wants to have her cake and eat it too, just as she has in the past. Ms Horwath knows that the budget will pass if NDP MPPs simply abstain from the vote. Making budget “asks” while stressing she is not drawing a line in the sand, she is practically ensuring that the Liberals will not adopt many of the “asks”. And, provided that the Liberals do not adopt the asks, Ms Horwath will have the excuse she needs to abstain from voting in favour of a budget that already includes her earlier demands. She will need only to say that “Our asks – such as eliminating the Liberal plan to impose road tolls – were not adopted, so we cannot in good conscience vote in favour of this budget, but we also will not stand in the way of the implementation of our own proposals, such as the 15% auto insurance reduction, so we will be abstaining from the budget vote.” As a bonus, if Ms Wynne adopts Horwath’s asks, Horwath can vote in favour of the budget, having essentially written most its more populist elements.

Tim Hudak: Vacating the field to preserve the “right wing” myth

The notion that Tim Hudak’s PCs are voting against the budget so as to trigger an election suffers from two flaws. First, if the PCs are the only MPPs to vote against the budget, they cannot trigger an election. Second, even were an election triggered (for example, were the NDP to vote against the budget), it is almost certainly the case that Tim Hudak’s PCs would not win the election. Indeed, there is good reason to believe that they would lose seats, given their no-show on budget negotiations.

If one takes the time to read the “Paths to Prosperity” white/green papers issued by the PCs over the last several months, one will find that the entire series is big on posture, but small on substance. No specific budgetary measures appear explicitly in any of the 200+ pages of “Paths to Prosperity”. In lieu thereof, that series actually says – in a single sentence – only that a PC budget plan would be prepared in advance of an election.

Meanwhile, PC MPPs have been sticking to talking points about having “bold ideas”, the “courage” to carry them out. From what I’ve seen, nobody in the media has bothered to call any PC MPPs on what, exactly, they mean by a “bold idea” when it comes to the budget. And, so long as nobody actually asks Mr. Hudak and his PC poseurs to explain what his party would cut from the budget, and by how much, the PCs have the luxury of going about posing as “hard right” or “very small c” conservatives…with the help of left-wing media who like the narrative in which the PCs are rabid right-wingers (Fact Check: these would be the same PCs, mind you, that gave Ontario the Human Rights Code, rent controls, the provincial sales tax, the provincial income tax, the government health care monopoly, the government electricity monopoly, etc.).

So, what does all of this have to do with the PCs stating – even before the budget was released – that they would vote against the budget? Well, all of that PC “bold ideas” posturing would be exposed as the talk of sheep in wolves’ clothing were Mr. Hudak’s PCs to participate in the budget negotiations because, in reality, there is little if anything the PCs would be willing to demand that would do much to balance the budget.

It is important to notice that, without a double digit bump in revenues sufficient not only to keep up with the growing cost of all ministries, but also to make up for the entire deficit, it is simply not possible to balance the budget – not now, and not 10 years from now – without making cuts to health care or education. Without cutting health care or education, eliminating some of the manifold agencies, boards and commissions funded by those ministries (as Hudak claims he would do) would have no effect on the budget. Look at the numbers: without cutting health or education, one would have to close entirely over half of the remaining ministries (as many as 16 of the smallest ones), or to cut remaining ministerial budgets by over 1/2 on average, just to eliminate the deficit. Yet the PCs have repeatedly said that they would not make cuts to spending in health care or education (indeed, not cutting health and education was a central part of their election campaign in 2011), and nothing in “Paths to Prosperity” says otherwise.

Therefore, for the PC macho right-wing posturing to remain intact, it is crucial that the PCs not expose the fact that they are not willing to make the cuts or to do the restructuring necessary to balance the budget. Mr. Hudak’s PCs cannot afford to participate in the budget process because doing so would expose the fact that they are no more willing to balance the budget than are the Liberals. Participation in budget negotiations would blow the phony macho right-wing pretense and demonstrate that replacing a Liberal government with a PC government would have no impact on the deficit, and would not move the province noticeably out of its current mode of centrally planning the economy. Mr. Hudak fears losing whatever remains of the “small government” types within his party and, so long as so many “swing” voters continue to vote for the Liberal Party and NDP (for example, in Toronto ridings), he cannot afford to alienate the former: he risks a further erosion of the PC party, and a rise in the popularity of an actual free-market party.


The upshot of all of this is that you can thank Tim Hudak’s PCs for the left-wing, spend-thrift budget Ontario gets in 2013. Were the PCs a party that actually stood for balancing the budget, it could have demanded measures to achieve that in exchange for supporting the budget. Instead, for the self-serving reason of continuing the pretense that they are a “fiscally responsible” party, they have vacated the field, and handed the NDP the role of official opposition.

It does not have continue to be like this folks. The solution is simple: the PCs need to be replaced with a fiscally responsible party that would actually reduce government spending, and balance the budget. The name of that party is: Freedom Party of Ontario. Why not write to your local newspaper, radio station, or TV news channel, and let them know it?

{An employment lawyer by trade, Paul McKeever is the leader of the Freedom Party of Ontario}


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