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Old 04-11-2012, 07:37 AM
leeNan12 leeNan12 is offline
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Default Canada News Cohn The bombshell budget freeze that
The bombshell in this week’s Ontario budget: the threat to impose a legislated wage freeze on public servants if negotiations fail.
But before you read any further, here’s a quick correction: It’s not actually a full-blown budget bombshell.
Provocative as the threat sounds to public sector unions and their NDP allies ― who are now debating whether to force fresh elections ― there is a convenient escape hatch for everyone. That’s because the controversial wage threat gets prominent mention in the 22-page budget speech by Finance Minister Dwight Duncan ― but not in the formal budget bill.
“We are prepared to propose necessary administrative and legislative measures to protect the public from service disruptions,” Duncan proclaimed solemnly when he rose in the Legislature.
But nowhere in the 355-page draft budget bill that MPPs must vote on is there any reference to legislating a wage freeze.
That’s a conspicuous omission, but by no means an empty threat. It’s designed to ensure the budget’s survival, both politically and legally:
First, the New Democrats gain more leeway: They can back the budget now ― since there is no wage freeze to be found in it ― then back out of any future legislation imposing a freeze on public servants.
Second, the omission allows the government to fend off any future legal challenges: It can follow the collective bargaining process at the outset, then use legislation only as a last resort, to avoid falling afoul of legal precedents.
But this two-pronged strategy ― political and legal ― also has an electoral dimension. The minority Liberal government is no longer in control of events.
The opposition now calls the shots. Or more precisely, the public.
That’s because NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is making a show of major public consultations before deciding whether to defeat the budget and bring down the government. Insisting she wants a “conversation” with voters, Horwath launched a new website Wednesday that asks people what they like, and dislike, in the budget.
The third and final question, written without a trace of irony: “Would you support an election at this time?”
Oh yes. The straw poll requires your full postal address and email, the better to reach out for fundraising.
Online surveys often produce predictable results from self-interested stakeholders. A scientific poll published in the Star this week showed a solid majority of Ontarians onside with an austerity budget.
But the NDP consultation will serve a useful purpose if it allows the party to buy time,beatsbydre-casque.com/lang-fr/5-beats-by-dre-pro:beatsbydre-casque.com/lang-fr/5-beats-by-dre-pro]casque beats by dre pro, save face, and hold its nose long enough to back the budget ― as it almost certainly will. (Tim Hudak’s Tories have already pledged to defeat it, leaving Horwath alone in the driver’s seat.)
The Liberals may yet find a few sweeteners for the NDP, such as tightening CEO compensation. They have already acceded to the party’s demand to freeze a planned corporate tax cut.
Still, it’s not hard to feel the NDP’s pain. The last time New Democrats held power two decades ago, they were punished by big labour for trying to freeze public sector salaries to conquer a runaway deficit. They are loathe to be complicit this time, no matter how easy the Liberals try to make it for them.
But with a $3 million campaign debt left over from last year’s election, the NDP is in no rush to beg the banks for more money to fight another one. And after winning the balance of power by boosting its seat count, the party is in no hurry to risk losing its newfound influence with an unpopular election.
Horwath campaigned hard on the pledge that she could, should and would make minority government work ― by building bridges to the party in power. So is this budget a bridge too far for the New Democrats?
That depends on whether the NDP wants to cut off all the escape routes in a budget package that chooses its words carefully. And pointedly leaves out the choicest ones.
Martin Regg Cohn's provincial affairs column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. , twitter.com/reggcohn.
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