First, the good news in the Ontario Liberal government’s throne speech this week is there will be an additional 100,000 licensed child care spaces to come starting in 2017. However, it will be stretched over five years.
There is also a promise of more funding for increased hours for homecare nursing and personal support.
Yet, the throne speech at the start of the fall session of parliament at Queen’s Park has to be seen as an attempt by the Liberals to win back a disaffected electorate. Midway through her mandate, Premier Kathleen Wynne has to be looking ahead to the next provincial election in 2018 and calculating what the chances are for the Liberals to remain in power.
It has to be a concern after the impressive September 1 election win by former Toronto councillor Raymond Cho, 80, in the Scarborough-Rouge River by-election. The riding which had been held by the Liberals since it was first formed some 20 years ago had been vacated by Liberal Member of Provincial Parliament Bas Balkissoon.
Further, the February by-election to replace Christine Elliott in Whitby-Oshawa did not displace the Progressive Conservatives (PCs). In fact, Lorne Coe won that by-election for the PCs with 53 per cent of the votes to Liberal Elizabeth Roy’s 28 per cent.
With the Liberals’ extension of their mandate two years ago, Wynne came in with a decidedly difficult task to make Ontarians forget the baggage accrued under Dalton McGuinty. Anger among energy ratepayers at the billion-dollar plus penalty coming out of taxpayers’ pockets for cancellation of power plants is still not forgotten.
But Wynne’s controversial decision to privatize Hydro One may be the hill on which this Liberal government finally dies.
Never mind that the purpose of the sale of 60 per cent of this public entity is meant to finance the much called for update of the province’s transportation infrastructure.
Clearly, the Liberals consider the big issue across the province to be the high cost of electricity. This government’s awkward transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy sources has seen the cost of energy shoot up 70 per cent between 2006 and 2014.
Ontario’s hydro rates are the highest in the country and many blame the agreement the Liberals have with private companies delivering electricity in rural areas.
The Liberals’ answer is to provide rebates equivalent to the provincial sales tax from electricity bills beginning this coming January 1. With this new rebate, city dwellers will get back about $130 annually while rural residents will see up to 20 per cent rebates, or about $540 annually.
Coincidentally, the tax rebate comes into effect at the same time as the new carbon tax. Surely, the Liberals cannot be serious about this kind of shell game.
Instead of removing the provincial portion of the harmonized sales tax (HST), ratepayers in rural Ontario would prefer the Liberals halt privatization of energy delivery services that account for the lion’s share of their energy costs.
The emphasis on energy costs also shows up the Liberals’ lower priority for other pressing concerns. What therefore is the Liberals’ plan for job creation in a fractured work force? It is of little comfort to champion job growth when the types of jobs being created offer little worker protection and wages that keep even full-time workers below the poverty line. If the Liberals hope to have any chance of extending their stay in power they need to be looking also in this direction.
This throne speech did not provide the answer.