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By Adrian Morrow (@AdrianMorrow)
Adrian Morrow reports from the Ontario legislature in Toronto.
Wrestling down the deficit. Slashing carbon emissions. Getting her new bestie at 24 Sussex – er, Rideau Cottage – to help pay for a massive expansion of the regional rail network. There's a lot on Premier Kathleen Wynne's agenda as the Ontario legislature returns from winter break today. And it will all play out against the backdrop of court cases involving three prominent members of her Liberal party. Here are five things to watch.
> 1. Brother, can you spare a few billion?
Finance Minister Charles Sousa's budget must show serious progress towards the Liberal promise to eliminate the deficit by next year. Getting to balance is crucial for Ontario: The province has the largest sub-sovereign debt load in the world and spends more than $10-billion annually to service it. The question is whether the government can wash away billions in red ink without damaging public services to make that happen.
> 2. Whither cap-and-trade?
Ontario's cap-and-trade system kicks in next year, meaning Environment Minister Glen Murray must sort out details of how it will work pronto: Will the government give in to lobbying by big polluters and grant them exemptions? How will the money raised from the system be handled? The stakes are high: Ontario has promised to slash emissions to 15 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, and is less than halfway towards that goal.
> 3. Will Trudeau come up with the dough?
During the federal election campaign, Justin Trudeau promised $4.6-billion in federal funding for a massive expansion of GO train service, including Ms. Wynne's plan to run trains all day in both directions on all seven lines, and Mayor John Tory's SmartTrack proposal for more stops and frequent service within Toronto. Ontario will be anxiously awaiting Mr. Trudeau's first budget to see if the promised funds are there. On a related note: Ms. Wynne is expected to continue the unpopular sell-off of Hydro One to raise funds to pay down debt and build transit. It is not known when the province will offer the next tranche of shares on the stock market.
> 4. We will sell no wine before its time… It's time!
The province is expected to unveil its long-awaited plan to put more wine in grocery stores. Wine retail is currently restricted to the government-owned LCBO and two private companies. Ed Clark, Ms. Wynne's business adviser, is expected to propose the government auction off a limited number of wine retail licences to the highest-bidding grocery stores.
> 5. The scandals.
Criminal charges against three Ontario Liberal operatives in two different scandals will continue to wend their way through the courts. Gerry Lougheed, a Liberal fundraiser in Sudbury, has court dates scheduled for March 31 and May 10; the court has also blocked off a three-week period starting July 4 for a possible trial or preliminary inquiry. In a separate case, ex-premier Dalton McGuinty's former chief and deputy chief of staff, David Livingston and Laura Miller, have their case in court again on Feb. 24. Mr. Lougheed, Mr. Livingston and Ms. Miller all maintain their innocence.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW THIS MORNING
By Chris Hannay (@channay)
> The number of missing and murdered indigenous women is likely "way bigger" than the 1,200 number cited by the RCMP, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said. Ms. Bennett also said the government should consult with grassroots organizations and survivors as it works on the issue of human trafficking.
> United Nations High Commission for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said he is impressed with the Liberal government's approach to consulting with First Nations and trying to deal with historical grievances. "Not many countries have the strength to really take an unalloyed view of the past, reflect on it sincerely and embroider it into their national curriculum so the country can move on, having gone through this rather painful but needed exercise," he said.
> In a rare sit-down interview with The Globe, the new Clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Wernick, says he's been asked by the Prime Minister to bring more scrutiny to political appointments. "You will see in the coming weeks a more rigorous process around Governor-in-Council appointments, like all of the 1,500 appointments or so that are the gift of cabinet to give," he said. (for subscribers)
> Canadians were not in favour of voluntary Canada Pension Plan contributions when the previous Conservative government floated the idea, newly disclosed documents suggest.
> And the federal government is trying to recruit more young people. A briefing book for the Prime Minister said the average age of new hires into the public service is 37, and most young workers are not being hired permanently.
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WHAT EVERYONE'S TALKING ABOUT
"If you were told that one of every two people in a country somewhere else thought their children would be worse off than their parents, would you imagine civil unrest and protests in the streets? Perhaps anger? Maybe frustration? It's not a foreign land or a developing country whose citizens think that way. It's Canada." – Nik Nanos (for subscribers).
Campbell Clark (Globe and Mail): "Justin Trudeau is remaking Canada's military in a Liberal image. But it remains an unfocused picture. If Canadians think he can bring back the past of Canadian peacekeeping, they have the wrong impression."
Margaret Wente (Globe and Mail): "For decades, [Hillary] Clinton could count on sympathetic treatment from the mainstream liberal media – even when her husband was in trouble. No more."
Jeff Sallot (iPolitics): "Life and death – the stakes don't get any higher. That's why it would be so very wrong for the Liberal government to whip the votes of its MPs to ensure passage of a bill legalizing physician-assisted death in grave circumstances."
Andrew Coyne (National Post): "Where Mulcair ruefully acknowledges 'I could have done a better job,' many New Democrats may conclude he is flattering himself. The problem, that is, may not be that he signed off on the wrong strategy or took the party too far to the right or, as he has lately tried to maintain, because of his position on the niqab. It may simply be that, on a personal level, he does not connect with Canadians – not, at any rate, on a par with Justin Trudeau."
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