TORONTO - Premier Dalton McGuinty is trying to use plum government appointments to get the majority the Liberals were denied by voters in last fall's election, Ontario's opposition parties charged Monday.
McGuinty already created the need for one byelection by naming veteran Progressive Conservative Elizabeth Witmer to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, and there are reports the Liberals are making similar job offers to other Tories.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said voters are turned off politics and get very cynical when they hear McGuinty is using plum public appointments to try to alter the makeup of the legislature.
"They’re concerned that a premier would abuse the public appointments process for his own partisan needs," Horwath told the legislature.
"They’re concerned about the complete contempt that shows for other MPPs, and they’re most concerned because it means the premier is more worried about his political challenges instead of the challenges that they face each and every day."
The Progressive Conservatives expressed frustration that the Liberals seem focused on getting the one seat they need for a majority while virtually ignoring a recent credit downgrade by Moody's.
"That should be a huge alarm bell that we’re teetering on the brink of a huge fiscal crisis in the province of Ontario," said Opposition Leader Tim Hudak.
"So what’s the government’s response? They look to buy seats and have byelections."
McGuinty dismissed a public report claiming he had bragged to the Liberal caucus about offering appointments to at least two more opposition members in hopes of creating another vacancy, telling the legislature not to put any credit in unnamed sources.
The premier then mocked the opposition parties, inviting Tories and New Democrats to cross the floor and sit as Liberals in a majority government.
"If there are any people on those (opposition) benches who want to come over and sit on this side of the floor, they will be welcomed with open arms," McGuinty said with a laugh.
"This is very difficult for me to say, but there are no exceptions. They will all be welcome."
Outside the legislature, Horwath said voters don't find the Liberals' political manoeuvring to be very funny.
"I think Ontarians are wondering why the priority of the premier is about which MPP might be ripe for the picking as opposed to which kind of policy changes they can make to make life better for everyday folks," she said.
"People would, I think, prefer us to focus on their problems, their concerns, than the games around here that will get government more power."
The premier has up to six months to call the byelection to replace Witmer in Kitchener-Waterloo. While campaigning in the riding last week, McGuinty said he doesn't believe in calling snap byelections in hopes of catching the opposition parties off guard.
The Liberals fell just one seat short of a majority in the provincial election Oct. 6, taking 53 seats compared to 54 for the combined Tories and New Democrats. With Witmer's resignation, the opposition benches were reduced to 53 members — the same number as the government, but Liberal Speaker Dave Levac would vote only in cases of a tie.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version incorrectly stated the number of seats held by the Liberals and opposition parties and misidentified the Speaker.