Politicians at the Ontario legislature wrapped up a tumultuous fall session Thursday that was marked by spending scandals, cabinet resignations, deepening economic troubles and an anti-tax protest that turned the chamber into a three-ring circus for nearly two days.
Despite the disruption, the governing Liberals accomplished their key goal — passing a bill that will merge the eight per cent provincial sales tax with the five per cent federal GST next July — over the noisy objections of the opposition.
Finance Minister Dwight Duncan remained unapologetic about the HST, emboldened by a September byelection victory for the Liberals that was widely touted as a referendum on the controversial tax harmonization plan.
“No doubt the economy has been top of mind for everyone,” he said Thursday.
“I’m optimistic about the coming year. I think we’re through the worst. I think we’re still not out of the woods completely, but I think we’ve laid out the right plan.”
But there will also be some “tough choices” in 2010 as the government charts a new and painful course to staunch the red ink ahead of the next spring budget.
Duncan’s fall economic update forecast a $24.7-billion deficit this year — the largest in Ontario’s history — and scrapped the government’s plan to re-balance the books by 2015 as plummeting revenues and increased spending emptied its coffers.