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With the Ontario election 80 days away, Wynne’s speech from the Throne is in the spotlight

Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne

Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne

Ontario Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell delivered the Ontario Government’s Throne Speech on Monday, March 19th, on behalf of Premier Kathleen Wynne and her government. The speech, which read like an election platform, contained promises of new investments in health care, home care, mental health and students that will plunge the province back into deficit.

The Ontario Government’s plan is for the deficit to be about one per cent of Ontario’s GDP – or $8 billion. This breaks a key promise by the Wynne government to achieve balance.

“It is the right thing to do in support of a fairer way forward,” the government argued in the speech. “… after delivering a balanced Budget this year, your government has made a deliberate choice to make more investments in the care and the services that the people of this province rely on.”

As is the protocol, Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell read the speech in the legislature at Queen’s Park.

Typically, a Speech from the Throne sets out or resets the government’s agenda – but the Wynne government’s speech was much more than that.

With an election scheduled for June 7, however, this speech (called suddenly late last week) had the feel of a pre-election public relations play, aimed at winning back voters for the June general election. Facing historic lows in public opinion polls and a newly crowned populist Progressive Conservative leader in Doug Ford, Premier Wynne and her team need to take some bold measures to be competitive in June.

Delivering a Throne Speech now, just days before they are to table a crucial pre-election budget, wipes the slate clean to focus attention entirely on the government’s priorities in advance of the election and attempts to take the spotlight from the Ford Tories.

Today’s speech also aims to peel left-leaning voters away from the NDP, veering far left with promises to bolster multiple programs to help women and middle class Ontario families.

This two-pronged strategy – review the investments already made, hint at what’s in next week’s budget, talk about it for a week and then release the budget – guarantees a lot of focus on the Liberal agenda.

In addition, there was a gentle tone to the speech – it was all about caring, fairness and helping Ontarians succeed now to better equip them later against the threats of “hyper-globalization.” There were repeated references to “your government.”

This is, perhaps, in contrast to what the Liberals are expecting from Mr. Ford, who has said he will throw out former leader Patrick Brown’s centrist platform, the People’s Guarantee.

In the first few interviews he has done as PC leader, Mr. Ford has talked about the dire state of the province’s finances and rejecting a carbon tax.

The Liberal government is attempting to draw a stark contrast, as can be seen from lines such as: “We do not accept that people should fend for themselves, and see if they make it on their own.”

The speech also made a number of references to climate change and the environment, which is an area where the Liberals and PCs are now at odds.

“These are fights that our children and grandchildren can’t afford for us to lose,” the government says in its speech. “Ontario eliminated coal-fired power, making our air cleaner and lowering our rates of childhood asthma. But you cannot be serious about lowering emissions and fighting climate change without a price on carbon pollution.”

Speech Highlights

  • “Significant” investments in the operation of hospitals, reducing wait times.
  • Major investments for mental health and opioid addictions.
  • Costs of childcare will be addressed, suggesting some kind of relief?
  • Expansion of the government’s “free tuition” program for some college and university students.
  • Expansion of the government’s pharmacare program, announced in last year’s budget. The program, offering free prescription drugs for any Ontarian under age 24, kicked in Jan. 1. “More people without a drug or dental benefits plan will have access to more affordable prescription drugs and dental care,” the government said in the Throne Speech.
  • Budget 2018 will lay out the plan to get the province back to a balanced budget.