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Sousa says Ontario ripped off by federal budget, calls it kick in the teeth

TORONTO - The Harper government is balancing its books at Ontario's expense, making itself "look good" before the 2015 election while putting the province's economic recovery at risk, Finance Minister Charles Sousa said Tuesday.

"The federal government has made it clear that they want to ensure a surplus amount while the provinces struggle," Sousa told reporters shortly after Finance Minister Jim Flaherty delivered the budget in Ottawa.

"They're asking the provinces to make sacrifices so that they can look good."

Ontario is bearing the brunt of unfair treatment of the provinces by a Conservative government bent on eliminating its red ink, added Sousa.

"For them to achieve what they want, they're doing it on the backs of Ontarians in this case," he said. "What's really troublesome is that they're making unilateral decisions without considerations for the impact it has on the province."

Despite the federal budget, the Liberal government will stick to its schedule to eliminate Ontario's deficit, estimated at $11.7 billion, in four years, said Sousa.

"Notwithstanding the kick in the teeth that the federal government has given Ontario with regards to the massive cuts that they've made to this province, Ontario will do what's necessary to meet our targets and we're going to stay on course to balance our books by 2017-18," he said.

The Harper government "ripped off" Ontario, added Sousa, who has been in a fight with Ottawa over a $641-million cut in equalization payments that he hoped would be reversed in the budget, despite Flaherty's clear signals to the contrary.

Every other province who faced a similar equalization payment cut in the past because of an improving economy was "made whole" by the federal government, but Ontario has been singled out for special, unfair treatment, he said.

"They've increased funding for the provinces like Quebec, by the tune of $1.8 billion, or Alberta, by the tune of $1.2 billion," complained Sousa. "We expected to see long-term investments in our economic future, (but) instead they're playing political games and putting our economic recovery in the cross hairs."

The Conservatives were willing to invest in Alberta's oil sands and energy projects in Newfoundland and Labrador in the past, so why not agree to help Ontario develop the huge Ring of Fire mineral deposit in the north or basic infrastructure projects like roads, bridges and public transit, asked Sousa.

"As our recovery is beginning to take hold, the federal government should be stepping up to the plate, but instead they're pulling the rug right out from under us," he said.

"We expected that the federal government would treat Ontarians fairly, and what has happened here is not fair. We're being penalized for being the leanest government in Canada."

Premier Kathleen Wynne and Sousa have scheduled a news conference for Wednesday morning to give more detailed reaction on the federal budget, including a half-hour technical briefing for the media.

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