Ontario throne speech vows to improve labour relations, create more youth jobs
Andrea Janus, CTVNews.ca
Published Tuesday, February 19, 2013 6:48AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, February 19, 2013 5:24PM EST
Ontario’s Liberal government promised to eliminate the deficit, tackle youth unemployment and improve relations with labour leaders in a throne speech it hopes the opposition can get behind rather than throw the province into another election.
The speech, read by Lt. Gov. David Onley in the legislature Tuesday afternoon, identified three key priorities of the next legislative session: fiscal responsibility, economic growth, and increased employment.
“(The government) will ensure opportunity for all without letting anyone slip through the cracks,” Onley read. “And it will send a clear message that Ontario’s finances are in steady hands, so that the confidence of all sectors can be raised.”
Other priorities highlighted in the throne speech include:
- maintaining the Dalton McGuinty administration’s pledge to eliminate the deficit by 2017-18.
- a focus on generating youth and aboriginal employment opportunities.
- giving both municipalities and their residents more input on infrastructure and energy products.
- improving relations with labour leaders, a nod to recent acrimony with teachers’ unions that saw imposed contracts and cancelled extracurricular activities.
- plans to “evaluate corporate tax compliance,” a key recommendation in Don Drummond’s report on how to fix the province’s finances.
- improving access to jobs for people with disabilities.
- allowing people on social assistance to keep more of their earnings.
- expanding home care.
The Liberals vowed to work with the opposition, and both the public and private sector to spur economic growth, create jobs and tackle the deficit. They also pledged to seek economic opportunities with new global partners in Southeast Asia, eastern Europe, the Middle East and South America.
When the books are balanced, the Liberals vowed to keep spending increases at one per cent below GDP growth until the debt-to-GDP ratio returns to the pre-recession levels of 27 per cent.
The Liberals also pledged to contribute $50 million to a new $300 million venture capital fund in partnership with the federal government and the private sector.
And the Liberals have made the creation of “a fair society” another key objective, stressing that every Ontarian “must have the same firm footing.”
It was imperative that Wynne secure the support of one opposition party for the throne speech -- a confidence motion the Conservatives and the NDP could have used to topple the government and throw Ontario into another election.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said her party “will vote in favour of the throne speech,” which saves the Wynne government for now. However, Horwath put Wynne on notice that she expects to see more of the proposals she recently set out for the government in the upcoming budget, or it will not get NDP support.
Horwath called the throne speech “vague,” and said she is looking for a budget that is “very specific and very clear.” Horwath said she wants to see specific action on youth unemployment, corporate tax loopholes, a timeline for a homecare guarantee and a reduction of auto insurance rates.
Ontarians “need a little less conversation and a little more action,” she said.
In contrast, Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said his party “cannot support the throne speech because it’s basically going to entrench the McGuinty agenda that got us into this jobs and debt crisis.”
Hudak said the speech did not contain “the necessary and urgent decisions” required to put the province back on economic track. But he continually dodged questions about whether Ontarians want to be thrown back into another election by saying they want things like “hope” and change.
“The only way to end our jobs and debt crisis, to take us off the wrong track, to change the direction of the province, is to change the team that leads it,” Hudak said.
Before the opposition leaders met with reporters to react to the speech, Wynne said she remained committed to working with all parties on the key priorities such as job creation and reducing the deficit, calling the work “non-partisan.”
“I’m looking forward to moving ahead and I hope that as the house leaders continue to talk we’re going to find a way to do that,” Wynne told reporters.
The speech also included clear calls to all MPPs to not only work together, but to speak out with real ideas rather than just to criticize the government.
“Your government intends to work with opposition parties in a spirit of renewed co-operation to get the people’s business done,” Onley read. “It does not believe that we are irreparably divided.”
“Your new government sees a great province that brings together disparate elements and bonds them together as one," Onley read.
"And your government believes the legislature should work the same way."
Also watching the throne speech were the heads of the province’s teachers’ unions, with whom relations have been testy after contracts were imposed following tense negotiations.
Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario president Sam Hammond was not impressed by the speech, despite promises to bring back fairness to contract negotiations and improve relations with labour leaders.
"I didn't hear anything in particular in the throne speech that gave me any other sense of encouragement or hope," Hammond said after the speech.
Ken Coran, head of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, said he didn’t hear a lot of detail about how the government plans to repair its relationship with organized labour.
However, he took note of key words such as “fair” and “transparent.”
“What the word ‘new’ means to me is refreshing change, the government will do things differently than the previous government under Dalton McGuinty,” Coran told CP24.
Coran said he has a meeting with Wynne on Thursday, during which he hopes to get more concrete details.
With files from The Canadian Press