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NDP leader Andrea Horwath visits Parkermann's Fine Tea Co. during a recent visit to Stoney Creek.

McMeekin challenges Horwath to budget debate as election looms

 By Kevin Werner, News Staff

Hamilton Liberal cabinet minister Ted McMeekin has issued a challenge to NDP leader Andrea Horwath to debate the merits of the party’s $130.4- billion budget anywhere in the city.

“I can’t wait to debate it,” said McMeekin in an interview soon after Horwath announced her party wouldn’t support the minority Liberals’ budget. “I’d (debate it) this afternoon.”

After a day of media silence, Horwath characterized the Liberal budget as a “mad dash to escape scandal by promising the moon and the stars.”

She said there are 70 promises made in the budget, but there are no plans for job creation, lowering hydro rates or “making life more affordable.”

Without the NDP support, and Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak already stating his party wouldn’t back the document, the minority Liberals would fall in a confidence vote.

Horwath’s decision means Premier Kathleen Wynne is expected to visit Lieut-Gov. David Onley and ask him to dissolve the legislature in the coming days. An election is now anticipated on June 12.

McMeekin said he was somewhat surprised that Horwath decided to force an election over a budget that was developed to entice the NDP members into supporting it.

“It’s very bold, very targeted in the issues,” said McMeekin. “I’m fundamentally surprised she would decide to pull the plug when there is so much work that needs doing.”

Last year the NDP backed the budget after the Liberals agreed to a number of demands, including more money for foster care for seniors, lower auto insurance and the creation of a fiscal accountability office.

The 2014 budget included a new Ontario Retirement Pension Plan modeled on the Canada Pension Plan, reduce hydro rates, boost spending on developmentally challenged individual needs, addressed transit and infrastructure problems, and raises taxes on corporations, a key policy priority for the NDP. Most unions backed the budget, while the Ontario Federation of Labour’s Sid Ryan also through his support behind the plan.

The election also curtails work that is being carried out betweenHamiltonand the province over funding transit projects, including the city’s hoped-for $800-million light-rail transit system. Although McMeekin said the budget doesn’t specifically identify money for the 12 transit project areas, it does raise issues about Hamilton providing a business case for an LRT.

“We have some work to do in Hamilton,” said McMeekin. “This election call may actually bring that process to a stand still. It’s another unfortunate outcome. (Horwath) has some real questions to answer about what she appears to be in the process of doing,” said McMeekin.

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