Provincial NDP leader slams McGuinty on health funding, HST; ready for byelection

Looking to make a breakthrough in the imminent provincial byelection in Ottawa, the Ontario New Democratic Party leader is telling voters they can blame the Liberals for recent cutbacks to hospital funding and services in the city.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath also noted the pending implementation of the harmonized sales tax will do nothing to help that situation.

Hospitals in Ottawa are currently facing a $51.6-million shortfall, and Horwath said Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government will increase funding this year by no more than two per cent — if at all.

“But we know that inflationary pressures mean, in effect, that is a cutback. A zero [per cent increase] is not really zero; it’s really a negative,” she said Tuesday in an interview with Centretown News.

“When we’re already seeing services being reduced in Ottawa hospitals and hospitals all across the province, we’re going to have to brace ourselves because if the government decides to go down that route, patient care is going to suffer."

“I’m getting pretty concerned about that, and most of the people in Ottawa are concerned about that.”

The controversial move to harmonize the federal GST with provincial sales tax in Ontario, Horwath argues, will mean even less money to invest in health care and will simply hurt consumers.

“There’s a package of tax reform that leaves the government $2 billion lighter in revenue, and that means they’re going to have less money to invest in programs,” Horwath said.

“And at the end of that scene, we’re paying more and what the government is doing is providing less. How much sense does that make?"

“It is absolutely, absolutely wrong-headed,” she said of the tax reforms.

 Horwath, now more than 10 months on the job, says those in McGuinty’s government have “plugged their ears and aren’t listening to what the public have to say.”

“If they’re serious about maintaining services at a time when people need them the most, then you don’t take away the tools — the taxes revenues — to provide that services.”

 With MPP Jim Watson having stepped into the race for Ottawa mayor earlier this month, McGuinty will have to call a provincial byelection in Watson's riding of Ottawa West-Nepean. That byelection is likely to turn into a referendum on the HST, Horwath says, and she is “confident” going into the contest.

“I’m confident there are a number of potential candidates out here in Ottawa that are prepared to step up to the plate and take on whoever the Liberals and Conservates throw at us,” she said.

"We have great activists in this area and in the broader community as well that can focus on a byelection in trying to take that seat.”