Premier Kathleen Wynne has pledged to balance Ontario’s books by 2018 in her inaugural Speech from the Throne, read by Lt. Governor David C. Onley at Queen’s Park Tuesday afternoon (Feb. 19).
According to highlights of the speech circulated to the media, Wynne intends to eliminate the province’s $12-billion deficit by 2017-18 by taking an “even-handed approach” and “allowing all parties to work together to find savings.”
The minority Liberal government also intends to focus on employment, specifically for young people, better accountability and more cooperation between the parties in the legislature and to mend fences with teachers.
The speech was seen by many as drawing from ideas espoused by the opposition New Democrats and Progressive Conservatives in an effort to prevent an election in 2013.
A focus on making it easier for small business to create jobs and the proposal of a new $300 million venture capital fund ($50 million of which would be direct seed money from the province), was a nod to policy planks of the Tim Hudak PCs.
A critique of Bill 115 by Wynne, a former education minister and parent activist, meanwhile, was aimed at NDP leader Andrea Horwath.
“As your government moves forward, Ontario’s labour force will be treated fairly and with respect,” the speech said. “It will sit down with its partners across all sectors to build a sustainable model for wage negotiation, respectful of both collective bargaining and a fair and transparent interest arbitration process, so that the brightness of shared future is not clouded by the indisputable economic realities of our time.”
According to Deb Matthews, deputy premier, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care and MPP for London North Centre, meetings between the premier and labour leaders in the education sector have generated a sense of wanting to move forward.
With only a two-year agreement in place, Matthews said it is important to get back on the right track with teachers sooner rather than later.
“There’s no question getting extra-curriculars back has been a very high priority,” she told London Community News Tuesday afternoon. “There is a spirit of ‘let’s move on with it.’”
Speaking as a London MPP, Matthews said the premier’s focus on job creation was good news.
“There is no question the economy in London and southwestern Ontario is not as strong as we need it to be,” she said. “I’m very pleased to hear about the focus on jobs … in particular job creation for younger people. The unemployment rate is particularly high among young people trying to enter the workforce.”
The mention of continuing the “transformation” of health-care in Ontario was also good news, she said, both from the perspective as the health minister who has overseen the changes the Liberals have made to the system already, particularly in home care, and in terms of potential job creation.
“London is a big health care hub,” Matthews. “We don’t want people staying in hospital any longer than they need to be … and we want to keep them out of long-term care facilities as long as possible. That has been a really big priority for me.”
Outside of those points, Matthews volunteered that the reference in the Throne Speech to the Wynne-led Liberals intending to do a better job of gathering input from Ontario residents on the location of energy infrastructure caught her eye.
The reference comes as Wynne assumes the leadership of a party under fire after the construction of gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga were cancelled at a cost at least $230 million to taxpayers.
“I believe local municipalities and families need to have a say in the location of new green technology,” Matthews said.
Asked whether the speech would be enough to stave off a non-confidence vote and an election, Matthews said a functioning minority government is what the people of Ontario said they want at the polls.
“I don’t think an election is necessary,” she said. “If the people of Ontario would have wanted a majority government, that’s what they would have given us. It’s up to us to make it work.”
The full text is available online: http://www.premier.gov.on.ca/news/thronespeech.php.