Dalton McGuinty and Andrea Horwath have cut a sensible deal to avert an election.

TheStar.com – opinion/editorials
Published On Mon Apr 23 2012.

The surest sign that the scramble was on to avoid a pointless provincial election came last week when the New Democrats dropped their misguided proposal to cut home-heating bills. The deal-clincher came on Monday when Premier Dalton McGuinty bowed to NDP Leader Andrea Horwath’s demand for a 2 per cent surtax on incomes above $500,000.

This move, plus McGuinty’s decision to shift $317 million into child care, hospital funding, welfare and disability payments at the NDP’s behest, was calculated to save the Liberal minority government. Still, it makes what was already a credible budget — given Ontario’s bleak fiscal realities — a better one.

The last thing Ontarians wanted or needed was a snap election. Horwath skilfully traded her support for budget fixes that will help some of Ontario’s most vulnerable.

The wealth surtax is projected to affect a mere 0.2 per cent of taxpayers and will raise $470 million next year. But the money won’t go to new programs as the NDP wanted. McGuinty plans to use it, conservatively, to pay down the deficit.

“We all gave a little bit,” said McGuinty, calling the surtax a “sensible compromise” to make minority government work.

It’s more than that; it’s good policy. But the only reason he’s agreeing to it now is that recent polling has shown it to be a popular idea. Support for higher taxes for the very wealthy runs in the 80 per cent range. There are few things that any government, anywhere can do to generate public support numbers like that.

Indeed, if the Liberals had been bold enough to ask the wealthiest to shoulder more of the burden last fall perhaps they could have picked up a couple more seats and secured a majority government.

Asking the very affluent to contribute more makes sense at a time when everyone else, including the poorest, are being forced to make sacrifices.

But if it’s the right thing to do now, it would have been the right thing to do during last October’s election. And yet no one dared to risk their political skin on it. Both the Liberals and the NDP campaigned on a promise not to raise personal income taxes, only to revisit the issue when the election dust settled. Now they’re busy cutting deals to protect their own interests, acceptable though the outcome is.

The downside for McGuinty is that he is now exposed to attack by Tim Hudak’s Conservatives for raising taxes, yet again, after vowing not to do so. That’s a price the premier is prepared to pay. He’s probably also banking on Hudak coming across as a one-trick tax-cutting pony, while others are trying to make the legislature work.

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