Conservatives accuse Premier Wynne of lying about state of Ontario's finances
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Finance Minister Charles Sousa hold a media availability in Toronto, Monday, March 17, 2014. (Frank Gunn / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Keith Leslie, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, March 17, 2014 3:54PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, March 17, 2014 6:37PM EDT
TORONTO -- The Progressive Conservatives accused Premier Kathleen Wynne of lying about the state of Ontario's finances Monday and said the Liberals intentionally misled taxpayers and international bond rating agencies.
But the Liberals say they provided an update on the province's finance last September, six months after the "secret reports" now being highlighted by the opposition.
Cabinet documents released to a legislative committee show finance ministry officials warned the government in 2013 that it was not on track to balance the budget by 2017-18, but Wynne publicly said exactly the opposite and didn't rein in government spending, said Opposition Leader Tim Hudak.
"We found ministry of finance documents for cabinet that say that the premier was told flat out that her plan to balance the budget was a phoney plan," said Hudak.
"Kathleen Wynne knew she was driving Ontario in the wrong direction, knew it would cost families jobs, but instead she kept her foot on the gas and she continued to mislead the people of the province."
There's no way the Liberals can eliminate the $11.7 billion deficit on schedule, and the cabinet documents provide irrefutable proof that the Liberals can't be trusted, added Hudak.
"So I guess it's a question of who do you believe: the senior finance officials who actually crunched the numbers or the Wynne-McGuinty Liberals who have a habit of lying to taxpayers," he said.
In the legislature, Wynne said the Liberals made it clear in last fall's economic statement that revenues were $5 billion off because of a faltering global economy.
"Ontario's revenues are more than -- I think you should hear this because you haven't read it -- $5 billion lower than projected since the 2010 budget," she said. "We are constantly updating numbers."
Outside the house, Finance Minister Charles Sousa accused the Conservatives of playing games, and said their accusation was "a bit rich" coming from a party that hid a $5.6 billion deficit in their last year as government in 2003.
"We've already released an updated statement in September realizing and recognizing the challenges before us and recalibrating the spending necessary in order to meet our targets," said Sousa. "We're doing what's necessary, so I find it rather humorous that they're playing politics this way."
Wynne told the legislature it was the government's job to understand what is changing in the province's fiscal and economic situation.
"Of course we worked with our officials and there are numbers that are updated, changes that are made," she said. "We run scenarios. We look at options. That's how you develop a responsible position, and that's what we are doing."
But Hudak wasn't buying Wynne's explanations.
"I think that people expect the government to be honest with taxpayers about the true state of finances -- another, as you characterize it, fundamental difference between you and me," said Hudak.
The documents also show the Liberals counted on revenue from a Toronto casino, which never got off the ground, and an expected savings of $239 million from the divestment of Ontario Northland Transportation Corporation, which in fact would cost the government $790 million.
Despite the changes, Wynne was confident the books will be balanced on schedule, and will keep adjusting the numbers as it goes forward.
"We are dealing with the numbers that we are confronting and we are going to make responsible decisions that keep us on the path of investing in people and in businesses, but at the same time making sure we stay the leanest government in the country," she said. "It's that balancing act that we're dealing with."
The Liberals still haven't said when they will introduce this year's budget, but issued a news release Monday noting that the last three budgets from the previous Conservative government were introduced in May or June.