Kathleen Wynne will reach across the aisle with a Speech from the Throne that seeks common ground with Ontario’s two opposition parties. But the promises of cost-cutting reforms, more spending on social priorities and more corporate taxes could set the stage for centre-left co-operation between the governing Liberals and the third-party NDP.
Major themes of Tuesday afternoon’s Throne Speech will include job creation and building a more “fair society.” But a third one, making the minority legislature work, will be overarching – the rookie Premier making policy commitments aimed at proving she will govern more co-operatively than her predecessor, Dalton McGuinty.
A government source acknowledged on Monday that the speech will include a nod toward making sure businesses pay their fair share of tax – presumably by curbing exemptions, for entertainment and other purposes, that the NDP refers to as “loopholes.” Other pledges geared toward the New Democrats will include increased spending on home care, a focus on youth unemployment, and allowing social-assistance recipients to keep more earnings.
Promises more aligned with the interests of the Progressive Conservatives will include the implementation of additional recommendations from last year’s Drummond Report, and a reiteration of Ms. Wynne’s long-term pledge to restore the debt-to-GDP ratio to its prerecession level by restraining spending increases after the deficit’s scheduled elimination in 2017-18.
Tonally, the speech will attempt to make the case for a tripartisan tackling of Ontario’s myriad fiscal, economic and social challenges. “The government does not believe we are irreparably divided,” it will say.
In reality, most insiders expect bipartisan co-operation with the NDP is far more likely. While the Liberals’ relations with the Tories have defrosted somewhat in recent weeks – Ms. Wynne has already met more often with PC Leader Tim Hudak than Mr. McGuinty did in the preceding 15 months of minority government – the Official Opposition is widely seen to be far more enthusiastic about forcing an election than the NDP.
In a letter released on Monday, Mr. Hudak effectively called on Ms. Wynne to spurn the NDP and shift sharply to the right. That demand, seemingly at odds with both the Liberals’ political interests and the worldview of a Premier seen to come from her party’s centre-left, will evidently not be reflected in Tuesday’s text.
Instead, Ms. Wynne appears to be drawing heavily from wish lists recently provided by NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. Of those demands, the only one that has been outright rejected is a call for a public inquiry into the controversy around the costly cancellation of the construction of two power plants.
That should give the Liberals a good chance of surviving not just a vote on the Throne Speech, but also one on this spring’s budget. Having built her brand largely around reasonableness and a willingness to work with others, Ms. Horwath could be hard-pressed to resist the overtures of a Premier showing enthusiasm for Liberal-NDP co-operation.
Ms. Wynne, however, may also find herself struggling with a growing list of NDP demands – a situation that bedevilled Mr. McGuinty for much of last year. With the Liberals having nowhere else to turn for support, the New Democrats could see the number of wishes granted in the Throne Speech as an invitation to put more forward.
Unable to know for certain how long she will be able to govern, the Liberals – who are making much of Ms. Wynne’s past as a professional mediator – will if nothing else be hoping that the Throne Speech’s open tone helps pin any blame for legislative dysfunction on the opposition parties.