TORONTO - Less than a week after floating a trial balloon about unpaid days off for Ontario public sector workers, Premier Dalton McGuinty shot it down Tuesday, accusing the media of playing guessing games and warning that "guesses are usually wrong."
Last week, McGuinty mused about using "Dalton Days" to help deal with the province's record $24.7-billion deficit. His name for the unpaid days off evoked memories of the "Rae Days" that former NDP premier Bob Rae introduced in 1993 to help deal with a deficit.
McGuinty said nurses, teachers and others in the public sector had been "sheltered" from the effects of the global recession and would have to do their part to help the province get back in the black.
"I like the alliteration," McGuinty told a business audience in Niagara-on-the-Lake about "Dalton Days."
However, at the legislature Tuesday, the premier said "Dalton Days" were just a figment of the media's overactive imagination - but he still wouldn't rule them out.
"I never said I was going to do that," he said.
"Why should I now say I'm not going to do something which I never said I was going to do?"
There will be lots of speculation between now and budget day, when the government will announce its plan and timetable for getting Ontario back to balanced budgets, said McGuinty.
"One of the things that life experience has taught me is that most guesses are wrong," he said.
Asked whether the re-christened "Dalton Days" were a figment of reporters' imaginations, McGuinty replied: "To this point in time, yes."
Reporters can keep guessing, McGuinty said, but he'll be getting his advice on how best to deal with the deficit from a government committee that's looking at cost-cutting measures.
"We have a committee which has been struck to do some hard and detailed work when it comes to putting in place the kinds of measures that help us bring about a balanced budget over a reasonable period of time, and in a way that doesn't compromise our schools and our health care."
The Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats come at the issue from opposing sides, with the Tories wanting McGuinty to re-open labour contracts while the NDP says he should forget about "Dalton Days" and scrap planned corporate tax cuts instead.
"I can't second guess what the premier's tactics are and why it is that he's flip-flopping on this issue, why it is that he brought it out and now is hiding it away again," said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
"My advice to the premier would be to look at his huge corporate tax giveaways."
The about-face on "Dalton Days" is typical of a second-term government that has lost its way, said Opposition Leader Tim Hudak.
"I think it shows that Dalton McGuinty is rudderless. After six years in office he's running out of gas," said Hudak.
Despite being offered several opportunities last week to shoot down the suggestion that he was even considering unpaid days off for public sector workers, McGuinty left the door wide open.
That sparked furor among several unions, which say McGuinty can't re-open existing contracts because the courts are on their side.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union and the Ontario Nurses' Association all said the Liberals can't attempt what Rae did in forcing workers to take up to 12 unpaid days off.
They point to a 2007 Supreme Court ruling which found that the collective bargaining process is protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as it threw out sections of a British Columbia law that re-opened contracts for hospital workers.
However, other lawyers say the Supreme Court ruling would still allow the government to re-open labour contracts as long as it first consulted the unions involved.
McGuinty has repeatedly said he wants to work with the unions to help find a solution to the province's budget shortfall.
The nurses' association said Ontario is already facing a nursing shortage, and warned that forcing nurses to take time off in 1993 ended up costing the province a lot more because replacements had to be called in on overtime.