The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Wynne says new Liberal budget will be 'identical' to one that triggered election

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TORONTO - Next month's Ontario budget will be "identical" to the one presented May 1 that was rejected by the opposition parties, triggering the June 12 election, Premier Kathleen Wynne said Wednesday.

"There may be some technical things that we have to change, and that will be laid out in the speech, but in terms of policies and the investments, it will be the identical budget," Wynne said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

After winning her own mandate, and leading the Liberals to power for another four years with a majority, Wynne is anxious to get the legislature back in session July 2, which means quickly preparing a throne speech and selecting a cabinet. She doesn't regret not waiting until after Labour Day to bring the house back.

"I could worry about cabinet for two months or I can worry about it for three days and get it done," Wynne said.

"I am very eager to get started, our team is eager to get the budget re-introduced in the legislature and work to implement the plan."

Wynne wouldn't confirm that Charles Sousa would stay in the finance portfolio, but laughed when asked if someone else would have time to get up to speed on the budget that he drafted.

"Stay tuned," she said with a chuckle.

The Liberal's priorities will be investing billions of dollars in transit and infrastructure projects, implementing a new $2.5-billion jobs fund and laying the groundwork for a provincial pension plan, said Wynne.

"Those investments that we're going to make in infrastructure are about economic growth, about letting communities have the opportunity to expand," she said.

"The jobs and prosperity fund is about partnering with business so they can expand and hire more people."

The premier came under attack during the campaign for saying she could eliminate Ontario's $12.5-billion deficit in three years without slashing government services and programs or laying off workers, but said she has a plan to keep costs down.

"We've said there is no new money for wages and salaries in terms of upcoming contract negotiations," Wynne said.

"We have made it clear that we're going to ask the top two per cent of income earners to pay a bit more (in income tax), so we are taking action to deal with the deficit."

Looking back on the election, Wynne said she was "more stunned than anything" when Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak announced he would cut 100,000 public-sector jobs if he became premier, but insisted the Liberals won because they offered a positive plan for the future.

"I truly believe that's why we were elected," she said.

Ontario voters picked the Liberal ideal of an activist government over the Conservatives' belief that government should be as small as possible and have a limited role in people's lives, added Wynne.

"One of the really stark differences between Tim Hudak and me, I think, was an understanding of what government is," she said. "Government exists, in my opinion, to help people, to be active in their lives, and to partner with communities and partner with businesses to create an environment where business can thrive."

Wynne beamed with pride when she talked about how being openly gay was never an issue during the campaign — or after, when headlines proclaimed she was the first woman elected as premier in Ontario — even though her partner Jane Rounthwaite was at her side at every stop and photo opportunity.

"Jane and I travelled the whole 42 days on the bus and we were warmly welcomed in communities in every corner of this province, which is as it should be," she said.

"This is a beautiful place in which we live, and we can't take it for granted, but we should be able to celebrate it."

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