Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is moving quickly after her big election win, convening Ontario’s new legislature on July 2 to hear a Speech from the Throne and pass the budget.
The morning after her Liberals unexpectedly were re-elected with a majority government, Ms. Wynne turned her attention to implementing her ambitious agenda. Spelled out in the budget last month, it includes the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan, which is designed to double the Canada Pension Plan’s benefits for retirees who do not have pensions at work; $29-billion for transit and highways over a decade; and ramped up spending on social programs.
Ms. Wynne also confronts a sluggish economy, one of the largest debt loads of any sub-sovereign jurisdiction in the world and a $12.5-billion deficit she has promised to erase in three years.
“I am fully aware of the challenge in front of us,” she said outside her office. “What I said last night to the people of Ontario – that I will do everything in my power, every day, to earn and keep their trust – I mean that. And part of that is making sure that we are wise and prudent with their dollars, because they are hard-earned. The fiscal situation in this province is a challenge, but I know that we are up to it.”
She said she would shuffle her cabinet before the legislature resumes to replace House Leader John Milloy, who did not seek re-election, and Youth Services Minister Teresa Piruzza, who lost her seat. She might also move other ministers around.
The Grits still have to deal with the fallout from the billion-dollar decision to cancel two gas-fired power plants to save seats in the previous election, and accusations political staff deleted e-mails related to the move. A police investigation into the matter is still open. And Ms. Wynne promised to reconvene a legislative committee probing the cancellations.
But with a majority, the Liberals will now control the committee, meaning they can block embarrassing witnesses and stop the mass requisition of internal government documents that the opposition undertook during the minority parliament.
Ms. Wynne wasted no time getting back to Queen’s Park on Friday, visiting Lieutenant-Governor David Onley to ask him to recall the legislature and meeting with her staff. As her SUV rolled up to the legislature steps at about 9:30 a.m., she was mobbed by cheering Liberal staffers.
“It’s thrilling to be here under these circumstances,” she said. “It feels clearer in some way. We know what we’re going to do, we’ve put out our plan. I’m really eager to get on with it.”
Ms. Wynne won her mandate largely by rallying voters opposed to Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak’s pledge to cut public sector jobs and spending. The Liberals also mocked Mr. Hudak’s signature pledge to create a million jobs over eight years after economists pointed out a mathematical mistake in his calculations. But the Premier must now determine how to hold the line on the budget herself and fire up the economy.
Economist Peter DeVries describes the budget’s fiscal targets as “ambitious” – they provide no new money for wage increases and keep program spending flat. The budget also assumed the government can save hundreds of millions every year through reviewing programs, but gave no details. Mr. DeVries also says the economic forecast is more optimistic than Ottawa’s.
“There continues to be uncertainties in the global economic outlook. Although the Ontario fiscal forecast contains a Contingency Reserve of about $1.2-billion per year to meet unexpected developments, it does not increase over time, despite the fact that risks increase over time,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Ms. Wynne said she recognizes the road ahead will be difficult. And, she allowed herself a moment of levity.
Asked if the “hard part” of governing was about to begin, she quipped: “I’m still waiting for the easy day in political life. This may be the closest to it.”