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Sousa denies budget already is written

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TORONTO—Ontario’s finance minister is rejecting Opposition claims that he’s already written the 2016 budget and that his public consultations on the fiscal plan are a sham and a farce.

Charles Sousa made a surprise public appearance Tuesday before the legislature’s finance committee, which has been travelling the province holding pre-budget hearings, after at first insisting on a closed-door meeting with committee members.

The Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats both used their allotted time to lash out at Sousa over reports he plans to introduce the budget in early March, which they said means the government already has decided what will be in it and has no intention of listening to what the public wants.

“We all know it takes a long time to prepare and translate the budget so, frankly, that means this year’s budget is most likely finished,” PC MPP Julia Munro told Sousa.

“It is sad these costly hearings were a sham—simply an opportunity for the Liberals to make it appear they would listen to people across Ontario,” she charged.

NDP finance critic Catherine Fife told Sousa she was concerned he already had completed the budget even though people still were making presentations to the finance committee.

“It would be a shame if the budget were tabled before you incorporated the suggestions that the people of this province made in their submissions to this committee,” she said.

But Sousa told the committee he was there to hear the feedback they had gathered from the public, and accused the Tories and NDP of playing partisan politics.

“I am here for the very purposes of trying to understand and hear from you the work that has been done,” he remarked.

“I haven’t completed the budget,” he stressed.

“I mean, we’re in the process of proceeding to prepare it, certainly.”

Sousa declined to say exactly when he plans to introduce the provincial budget—last year’s was tabled near the end of April—but said it would include feedback from the consultations his ministry has held, as well as the committee’s findings.

“Keep in mind a lot of the work you’re doing has already been forwarded,” he told the committee.

“The fact of the matter is I am here, and I thought it appropriate for us to have this dialogue,” he added.

“This hasn’t happened in over 12 years.”

In its 2016 pre-budget presentation, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union pointed out Sousa already has rejected two of the most frequently-submitted ideas in the government’s online budget consultations: end public funding of Catholic schools and stop the sale of Hydro One.

“We’ll see what we get this time around,” Sousa said.

“There have been a number of them, some a bit more eclectic than others, but that’s OK because we want people to be engaged,” he added.

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