Wynne's throne speech to include cap on spending, welfare reform, homecare: source - Macleans.ca

Wynne’s throne speech to include cap on spending, welfare reform, homecare: source


TORONTO – Premier Kathleen Wynne will reach out to the opposition parties in Tuesday’s throne speech, meeting some key elements on the Conservative and New Democrat agendas as the legislature gets back to business, The Canadian Press has learned.

Making the minority parliament work is one of three key priorities that will be laid out in the speech, which outlines the government’s agenda in the new session.

“The people of this province expect all members of the Ontario Legislative Assembly to work together,” says the speech, which will be read by Lt. Gov. David Onley.

“It is what they want and what they deserve.”

The other two priorities — a strong job-creation economy and a fair society — will round out Wynne’s road map for the session, a source said.

The speech will include measures to show there’s some common ground among the three parties, the source said.

“The government doesn’t believe we are irreparably divided,” Onley is expected to say when he reads the throne speech.

The governing Liberals will re-commit to slaying the province’s $12-billion deficit by 2017-18. Once the budget is balanced, they will restrict overall government spending increases.

Spending growth will be capped at one per cent below gross domestic product growth — economic growth — until Ontario’s debt-to-GDP ratio returns to pre-recession levels, the source said.

“That’s something the Conservatives can agree to,” the source added.

The speech will also promise to fight youth unemployment, allow welfare recipients to keep more of what they earn when they work, and increase homecare — something both the NDP and the Tories wanted.

Allowing those on welfare to keep more of their income was a key recommendation of a report by Francis Lankin and Munir Sheikh aimed at improving Ontario’s social assistance programs.

Wynne said implementing the report is one of her top priorities and has already asked bureaucrats to start planning to put it into effect.

The throne speech is Wynne’s first major test as premier, a confidence motion that could trigger an election if both opposition parties vote against it.

She’s been branded as a left-leaning successor to McGuinty, but Wynne insists she will balance social justice with fiscal responsibility.

But it’s unclear whether the measures outlined in the speech will be enough to satisfy the Tories, who say they’re looking for “fundamental change” in the Liberals’ approach to spending, job creation and reducing the province’s debt.

In a letter to Wynne, Opposition Leader Tim Hudak said he wants to see a “serious plan to reduce government spending and strengthen the economy” and “reveal the whole truth” about the decision to cancel two gas plants at a cost of at least $230 million.

“Tuesday’s throne speech brings Ontario to a moment of truth,” he said in the letter Monday.

“It is a time when we can choose to make those necessary and urgent choices or we can stand by and watch as our province continues to recede from greatness.”

Unlike the Tories, the NDP compiled a list of measures they wanted Wynne to implement. They included a 15 per cent cut to auto insurance premiums, $30 million to eliminate home care waiting lists and institute a five-day guarantee for seniors who need health services at home.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath also wants the Liberals to close $1.3 billion in corporate tax loopholes, spend $200 million to create jobs for youth and call a public inquiry into the cancelled gas plants.

The controversy was one of the political land mines Wynne inherited, which sparked a rare contempt of Parliament motion against former energy minister Chris Bentley.

The motion was killed and the legislative committee examining the cancellations was shut down when former premier Dalton McGuinty prorogued the legislature in October.

The new premier has sought to appease the opposition parties by asking the province’s auditor general to expand his probe of the Mississauga plant — which was cancelled during the 2011 election — to include the 2010 cancellation of the Oakville plant.

Wynne also said she’ll strike a select committee dedicated solely to investigating the controversy once the legislature re-opens, and said she’ll even testify if the committee calls her to appear.

The opposition parties say the Liberals cancelled the plants to save seats in the face of local opposition to the projects.

Wynne insists she wasn’t involved in the decision to cancel the Mississauga plant, even though she was co-chair of the Liberal campaign at the time.

Another storm Wynne will have to weather is rebuilding her government’s soured relationship with public school teachers, who are angry that the Liberals imposed new contracts that cut benefits and froze the wages of most instructors.

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