TORONTO – Ontario’s Liberals will address only their own agenda in the throne speech Tuesday that opens the first session of the legislature since the Oct. 6 election, despite being reduced to a minority government.
The speech, to be read by Lt.-Gov. David Onley, will outline plans to provide a home renovation tax credit for seniors and a 30 per cent reduction in college and university tuitions, but won’t mention ideas from the opposition parties.
“Overall it’s a more focused agenda than you’d normally see in a throne speech,” said a senior Liberal source.
“It’s not a laundry list of every commitment we made in the platform because, quite frankly, in the current fiscal situation and minority government, that’s not always going to be possible.”
The speech will focus on items that are “core to the Liberal agenda,” and won’t talk about the Progressive Conservatives’ demand for a public sector wage freeze or the New Democrats’ call to eliminate corporate tax cuts.
“I’d say there’s a tip of the hat that we need to find ways to work together in this (minority) house and look forward to getting good ideas from anybody,” said the source.
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“There’s no ‘we picked this up from your agenda and we picked up that from your agenda.’ There’s none of that.”
Tory Leader Tim Hudak met with McGuinty last Friday to discuss the minority legislature, but emerged “frustrated” after the premier “shot down” his ideas such as legislating a public sector wage freeze.
“It sounds like, so far, that Dalton McGuinty didn’t get the message sent in the last election campaign that we need change,” said Hudak.
“We need to get our province back to living within its means.”
The opposition parties each campaigned on eliminating the eight per cent provincial portion of the HST from home heating bills, an idea that won’t be in the throne speech but will be debated later this week when the NDP introduces it as a private member’s bill.
“It’s a small step to make life more affordable for families and protect them from an unfair tax, one that never should have been applied to a daily essential like home heating” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
Private members’ bills rarely become law in Ontario, but the Tories and NDP combined now have one more seat than the governing Liberals, so reducing the HST on home heating bills could be the first real test of the minority government.
The tone of the speech from the throne will be one of fiscal restraint, and follows a warning by McGuinty the government will have to limit spending increases to an average of one per cent a year until the $16-billion deficit is eliminated in 2017-18.
That’s going to mean cuts in virtually all areas except health care and education, which together eat up more than 70 cents of every dollar the province spends. But the throne speech will not detail what services may be reduced or eliminated.
“These are serious times and we need a serious plan,” McGuinty told the Economic Club of Canada last week in his first major speech since voting day.
“It’s going to require discipline and some tough decisions on the part of government.”
McGuinty still talks about governing with what he calls a “major minority,” and the opposition complains they aren’t seeing any signs the Liberals are willing to genuinely co-operate with them to make the minority parliament work.
“I didn’t see much different between Dalton McGuinty in November 2011 and Dalton McGuinty in November 2010,” said Hudak.
The PC leader sent an email to supporters after his meeting with McGuinty telling them to be “ready to go into an election next year,” but the New Democrats say that’s the last thing people want.
“I don’t want to spend the next few years with an unstable government, making threats that we’ll bring the government down,” said Horwath.
“The people of this province don’t want to see the same squabbling status quo.”
Finance Minister Dwight Duncan will deliver the fall economic update Wednesday, which will detail the impact lower growth forecasts are having on the provincial books, and pave the way for some serious belt-tightening measures in next year’s budget.