Premier Doug Ford has signalled that change will be coming rapidly to Ontario in his government’s first throne speech, less than two weeks after being sworn-in at Queen’s Park.
The Progressive Conservative government said that reordering Ontario’s finances will be its priority in Thursday’s speech, but added that no new taxes would be placed on the public as the province looks to balance its books.
The speech, written by the premier’s office and read to the legislature by Lieutenant-Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell, outlined a legislative agenda consistent with Mr. Ford’s campaign promises.
Per the PCs’ plans, the cap-and-trade system will be scrapped and the new government will look to sue Ottawa to stop the federal government from imposing any price on carbon. Taxes will be lowered on most individuals and businesses, while regulations will be slashed with the goal of spurring economic growth. Public spending will be audited and any unnecessary expenditures will be eliminated. New money will be found for subways in Toronto and beer, as well as wine, will be made available in corner stores.
Ms. Dowdeswell warned that the new government’s mandate “comes with high expectations,” but echoing Mr. Ford’s campaign message, she said the Premier intends to confront a system that seemed tilted to “insiders and the elite” under the previous Liberal government.
“Change will not be easy. It will require a unity of purpose, a clear vision and a lot of hard work,” she said.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who heads the official opposition, said that the throne speech did not address current issues. “I think it’s pretty clear that this government is bent and determined to drag this province down, to take us backwards, to take us into a race to the bottom and pull us into the last century,” she said.
Mr. Ford’s cabinet has moved quickly to reduce government spending since being sworn in on June 29, by freezing hiring in the public service, cancelling planned pay hikes and stopping all discretionary spending. The Progressive Conservatives have also limited access to a free pharmaceutical program known as OHIP-plus and announced their intention to cancel a wind-turbine project in Eastern Ontario.
The flurry of cost-cutting measures are part of a campaign to restore public faith in the government and to chip away at a budget deficit projected to be nearly $6-billion this year, according to the Lieutenant-Governor.
“You should not be forced to pay more and work harder to make life easier for your government. Instead your government should be working harder, smarter and more efficiently to make life better for you,” she said.
In the coming months, the province will call a Commission of Inquiry into the financial practices of the Ontario government, along with a line-by-line audit of spending. Mr. Ford has said he can save billions through undefined efficiencies. The speech did not provide a timeline for a return to a balanced budget.
Ms. Dowdeswell also underlined the government’s move earlier this week to revert to the province’s 1990s-era sexual-education curriculum, and further plans to stop a new math curriculum. In the speech, she dismissed the new teaching methods introduced by the previous Liberal government as “failed ideological experiments in the classroom.”
Charles McVety, a social conservative leader who has spoken a number of times with the Premier about the new sex-ed curriculum, cheered on the move to scrap it.
“The fruit of the poisonous tree has been cut down,” he said, calling the new curriculum too radical, citing “gender fluidity” as an unacceptable concept to teach in school.