Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne's Liberal government gets its first Speech from the Throne Thursday since winning re-election with a majority. Lieutenant-Governor David Onley delivered the speech that lays out Ms. Wynne's agenda at the opening of Ontario's 41st parliament. Here are the highlights.
Four pillars: infrastructure, pension, business and skills
The speech roughly divides Ms. Wynne’s massive agenda into four key areas. First is infrastructure, which the government is promising to spend $130-billion on over the next decade. The flashiest component is Ms. Wynne’s signature pledge of $29-billion for new subways and highways, but the spend also includes hospitals, schools and college campuses. Second is the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan, the largest new social program the country has seen in a generation, which will be available to people who do not already have a workplace pension plan, starting in 2017. Its aim is to double the benefits retirees receive from the Canada Pension Plan. Third is a “competitive business climate,” which includes such things as the government’s new $2.5-billion fund for business grants. Last is the government’s plan to spend more on skills training, including a new program called Experience Ontario – details of which are not spelled out in the speech – to help recent high school graduates get work experience.
It’s a term Ms. Wynne has used several times since her majority win and it appears again near the start of the speech. The term is effectively meant to balance Ms. Wynne’s central raison d’etre as a politician – to bring in major new policies, the “activist” part – with her acknowledgement of her party’s essential centrism. Her election was in large part won by putting together a big tent coalition from leftists in downtown Toronto to moderates in the suburbs, and she is signalling that she will try to appeal to all factions as Premier. Besides her major policy moves, she is trying to position herself as fiscally responsible, prepared to balance the budget in three years.
Lingering smell of gas plants
The Liberals are promising to bring back new transparency legislation that died with last month’s election. The proposed law would force ministers and staff to post expenses online, give cabinet more power to control wages and benefits for top public servants and expand the powers of the integrity commissioner. It would also lay out punishments for anyone caught destroying government documents. The law is meant to address the public anger over a series of spending scandals, including the Liberals’ billion-dollar cancellation of two gas-fired power plants. In that case, the provincial police are investigating allegations staff in former premier Dalton McGuinty’s office destroyed records that may have been related to the scandal. The Speech from the Throne is peppered with oblique references to this, with the Liberals acknowledging voters have them on a tight leash in the ethics department. “Your government knows that trust is hard-earned, but easily lost,” it says at one point.
A burning Ring of Fire
The government is promising to set up a development corporation to kick-start mining in the Ring of Fire, a large mineral deposit north of Thunder Bay, within 60 days. Ms. Wynne has already pledged a billion dollars for building infrastructure – most importantly a road or rail link – to get workers in and chromite out of the area. The development corporation will consist of government, First Nations and other groups, and will lay out a plan for getting infrastructure built and companies ready to dig.
Trip to China
The speech announces Ms. Wynne’s first overseas trip since taking over as Premier: a junket to China this autumn. A government source said the trade mission has been in the works for months, but was never possible during a minority parliament – there was too much to keep Ms. Wynne and her cabinet occupied on the day-to-day churn of by-elections, the budget and domestic political drama. With a majority government ensuring stability for her party on the home front, Ms. Wynne will go on the road to court investment.
Poverty reduction strategy
It is touched on only briefly – and there are no details – but the government is planning a new poverty reduction strategy. One Liberal insider said the plan will be helmed by Deputy Premier Deb Matthews and will include measures in various government ministries.