TORONTO – Ontario’s governing Liberals promised Wednesday to keep a close eye on corporate taxes, work with public sector workers on wage talks and give local residents more say in whether they get a wind farm, gas plant or casino.
The speech from the throne, which laid out the government’s agenda and marks the start of the legislative session, also promised to work collaboratively with the opposition parties to make the minority parliament work.
The province needs all three parties to work together “in a spirit of renewed co-operation” to get things done, Lt. Gov. David Onley said in reading the speech.
“Your new government sees a great province that brings together disparate elements and bonds them together as one,” he said.
“And your government believes that the legislature should work the same way.”
Working with the NDP and Progressive Conservatives isn’t just a goal, but a necessity. The Liberals will need to convince at least one of the opposition parties to support the speech to avoid triggering the election.
While the speech contained measures the Tories and New Democrats were seeking, there appeared to be more goodies for the NDP.
There was a promise to restrain spending to one per cent below gross domestic product once the budget is balanced in 2017-18 — something that would appeal to the Tories.
They also plan to “evaluate corporate tax compliance,” while exploring a tax break by raising the exemption threshold of the Employer Health Tax — both meant to woo the NDP.
In addition to paying down the deficit, the new government’s agenda will also include an emphasis on job creation and building a “fair society,” the speech said.
They’ll work to tackle youth and aboriginal unemployment, while making efforts to give people with disabilities better access to jobs. The government will also contribute $50 million to a new venture capital fund to give small- and medium-sized businesses a leg up.
At the same time, they’ll let people on social assistance keep more of their earnings when they work.
As for the Liberals’ rocky relationship with labour groups and teachers angry over imposed contracts, the government will “build a sustainable model for wage negotiations” that will respect collective bargaining, the speech stated.
“It will show its respect for teachers, support staff, principals and school boards,” Onley read.
Union leaders said there are ongoing talks about bringing back extracurricular activities, but their members are looking for something more concrete.
“I didn’t hear anything in particular in the throne speech that gave me any other sense of encouragement or hope,” said Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario.
The Liberals said in the speech that they will make transit, roads and bridges a priority, hinting that improving such infrastructure may require politically unpopular levies.
GO Transit is musing about charging commuters for parking at their stations — something the Liberals promised they wouldn’t do last year when they hiked licence and registration fees.
“If we continue to argue about the tools this investment will require, then we are deaf to the symphony of progress that echoes around us,” Onley read.
Municipalities must have a “voice in their future” and a say in their regional development, he said.
“So that local populations are involved 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,” Onley read.