Ontario’s latest Speech from the Throne on Tuesday sets some fine fiscal goals, but Premier Kathleen Wynne will have a hard time reconciling those good intentions with proposals for new spending, of which some are at least partly aimed to obtain the support of Andrea Horwath and the New Democratic Party, in the present minority Legislative Assembly.
Ms. Wynne deserves credit for bringing the legislature back only eight days after she and the new cabinet were sworn – but all too long after the ill-considered prorogation instigated by her predecessor, Dalton McGuinty, last October.
The Liberal government promises to eliminate the deficit in 2017-2018 and, subsequently, to limit spending increases to 1 per cent below GDP growth until the debt-to-GDP ratio is 27 per cent, where it was before the recession of 2008. It also undertakes to keep implementing the rigorous Drummond Report, made public a year ago.
The speech was mercifully free of explicit pandering to the NDP, or for that matter to the Conservatives. Ms. Horwath recently demanded a 15-per-cent reduction in automobile insurance premiums; the speech more cautiously offers to work toward reducing them – in any case, at the expense of the insurers not the public purse.
But Ms. Wynne’s program includes some substantial new spending commitments, for example, acting upon recommendations from the report last year by Frances Lankin and Munir Sheikh on social assistance, which was generally reasonable, but welfare reforms are rarely fiscally neutral. Likewise, more and better home-care services are desirable but costly. So too is the transportation infrastructure that is promised.
As if to delicately distance Ms. Wynne from Mr. McGuinty, the expression “green energy” is not to be found in the Throne Speech. Likewise, local communities are to be consulted about gas plants, casinos, wind plants and quarries – all sore points of the past few years.
The overall approach shows considerable continuity, however. Not surprisingly, Ms. Horwath has said that she will support the Speech from the Throne, while Tim Hudak, the Conservative Leader, will oppose it. The provincial Liberals are still governing from the centre-left.