Ontario NDP leader, Andrea Horwath, will support it but the Progressive Conservatives’ Tim Hudak will not.
Thus stand the opposition parties’ responses to the first throne speech of the Kathleen Wynne-led Liberal minority government, characterized as being short on specifics and long on vagueness and generalities. But then, throne speeches are, as a rule, rather vague.
After evoking the memory of the late Lincoln Alexander, who had served as Ontario’s lieutenant governor, current lieutenant governor David Onley launched into the Liberal throne speech, which despite the charge of vagueness, stated explicitly that the Wynne government’s “central objectives (are) fiscal responsibility, economic growth and increased employment”.
Concerned with keeping her minority government alive, Wynne’s throne speech included talking points meant to appease both opposition parties. As such, the PC proposal for reducing the debt-to-GDP ratio was mentioned along the way to promising to balance the budget by 2017-18, a date all three parties have been holding to.
But reaching beyond the Conservatives, the throne speech aimed to send a message to business interests, promising to “explore an increase in the Employer Health Tax exemption threshold” and to open up access to capital for small and medium size businesses.
The Liberal blueprint also promises to wean off the excessive trade dependency on the U.S. by setting out on international trade missions to Asia, Europe and South America to drum up business.
Hudak, in a replay of his response to the previous throne speech, readily rejected this one as well, saying: “I just think the approach that says a little bit of PC, a little bit of NDP and a whole lot of (former premier) Dalton McGuinty isn’t going to get us out of this mess.”
Hudak gave the impression that he is ready to go to the polls, although he was less forthcoming about whether he believes the vast majority of Ontarians also are.
Whatever warm and fuzzy gestures of working together Wynne endeavored to send out to the opposition parties “in the spirit of renewed cooperation” as she seeks to ensure the longevity of the minority Liberals fell with a thud on the PC doorstep. In fact, they already had attack ads airing just ahead of the throne speech.
To no one’s surprise, the PCs will continue to use the controversial cancellation of gas plants in Mississauga and Oakville – Liberal machinations to win seats ahead of the last provincial election – to seek to bring an end to this minority government. Their new attack ads now tie Wynne to the decision to shut down construction of the plants.
Without direct mention of past Liberal sins, the throne speech promised to involve “local populations from the beginning if there is going to be a gas plant, or a casino, or a wind plant or a quarry in their hometown”.
Horwath, on the other hand, and again in a replay of the previous throne speech, signaled NDP support of the throne speech while making it clear that this deferment of an early election would only hold until the Liberal budget expected in the spring.
Concessions to the NDP include a promise to reduce auto insurance rates, a plan for job creation and subsidies for youth. The NDP is also calling for the closing of corporate tax loopholes and a timeline for a guarantee of homecare.
And in a nod to the report on welfare reform from former United Way head, Frances Lankin and former Statistics Canada head, Munir Sheikh, people receiving welfare support will be able to keep more of their earnings. And there will be more support for transition to sustainable employment.
To ensure the support of the Liberal base in the Greater Toronto Area, the throne speech had encouraging words regarding the development of transportation infrastructure as a priority. But something sure to rankle Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, the speech pointed to road tolls as one possible revenue stream toward that end.
With NDP support, the Wynne Liberals will buy themselves some time, but for the next election, whenever that is, they will need to sufficiently win over the various interests within Ontario’s electorate.