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Throne speech vague on details, but gains NDP support

It's clear from the Speech from the Throne that the provincial government is reaching out to opposition parties, the MPP for Nickel Belt said.
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Workers are seen in the Ring of Fire in this file photo. In the throne speech, the government also said it would endeavour to improve access to the Ring of Fire. File photo.

It's clear from the Speech from the Throne that the provincial government is reaching out to opposition parties, the MPP for Nickel Belt said.

But the NDP's France Gélinas said the real test will come with the budget, expected to be delivered sometime in April, when Premier Kathleen Wynne's new government will release the details behind its words.

Lt.-Gov. David Onley delivered the throne speech in the legislature Feb. 19.

“For the benefit of the entire province, your government intends to work with opposition parties, in a spirit of renewed co-operation, to get the people's business done,” the speech said.

“It does not believe that we are irreparably divided, or that the challenges we face cannot be overcome.”

Gélinas said her party had three key demands for Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne's minority Liberal government. The NDP wants to see support for jobs for youth, bolstered home care and reduced auto insurance rates and auto insurance fraud.

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who has stated her party will lend the Liberals support to ensure the Speech from the Throne passes in the legislature, said although the speech mentioned these topics, it was vague.

“Families need to see results in the upcoming budget or the government will not be able to rely on New Democrat support,” she said, in a press release.

Like former Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty before her, Wynne is promising to eliminate the province's deficit by 2017-18.

Gélinas said she thinks this is a realistic goal, especially if the government takes the NDP's advice and closes tax loopholes for corporations they say are costing taxpayers millions.

However, this isn't enough to get Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak to vote in favour of the Speech from the Throne.

“Regrettably for Ontario, Premier Wynne appears to have chosen to entrench the McGuinty agenda that led Ontario to the biggest jobs and debt crisis of our lifetime,” he said, in a press release.

Paula Peroni, the candidate for the Ontario PC party in Sudbury, backed that statement. She said Wynne failed to bring anything forward that will meet the needs of Northern Ontario.

“Unfortunately, there was nothing new to reverse the track Ontario is on, but rather it was an exercise in entrenching the old McGuinty legacy,” said Peroni.

“As PC’s we want a better Ontario and certainly a better Northern Ontario. What we were looking for in the Throne Speech were initiatives for job creation and debt reduction. Instead, we saw more spending, a bigger Cabinet and a return to the McGuinty era. We simply can’t afford another Liberal government in this province.

“Only the Ontario PC’s have a plan to help the 600,000 unemployed persons in Ontario and to reduce the historic debt left by the Liberals.”

As NDP's health and long-term care critic, Gélinas said she was glad to see the speech focus on expanding access to home care and mental health care, and moving forward with the Seniors' Strategy.

Again, though, she said she's anxious to see details surrounding government policy on these three topics.

Gélinas said the NDP has put together a proposal to invest $30 million in health care.

“As I said, she mentions it in the throne speech, but none of the details,” she said, although at this point, “everything leads us to believe” the government will be taking action on the NDP's plan.

Gélinas said she sat on a multi-party committee looking at the issue of how mental health care is provided in the province.

She said she hopes the province will implement some of the committee's recommendations, including giving just one ministry responsibility for delivering mental health care.

In terms of the Ontario Seniors' Strategy, Gélinas said only the executive summary of the report, written by geriatrician Dr. Samir Sinha, has been released so far.

“I would say at first blush, I'm excited about his report,” Gélinas said. “It looks really good. But I reserve judgement until I've read the whole report.”


 

In the throne speech, the government also said it would address the special transportation needs of Ontario's north and endeavour to improve access to the Ring of Fire.

Sudbury Area Mining Supply and Service Association executive director Dick DeStefano said he found the statement about Ring of Fire transportation vague, although he's seen previous statements from those now in cabinet indicating that they're committed to the project.

“It's going to be in the details,” he said. “That what we're waiting to see.”

He said he's wondering why the government didn't mention making a deal on energy prices with Ring of Fire producers such as Cliffs Natural Resources.

Following a bitter labour dispute with the province's teachers last year, the speech promised to show “respect for teachers, support staff, principals and school boards.”

More generally, it also said the government would sit down with public-sector workers “to build a sustainable model for wage negotiation.”

Rainbow District School Board vice-chair Dena Morrison said she appreciates the “positive messages” regarding labour relations with teachers.

She said there have been “continuous meetings” between teachers' unions and the government since Wynne was elected.

“We hope that's all a signal of good things to come,” Morrison said.

A press release from the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) said it welcomes the Speech from the Throne's “respectful, inclusive tone.”

“We look forward to working with this new government and appreciate the respect it has voiced for its partners in public services, including teachers,” ETFO president Sam Hammond said, in a press release.

“While this commitment to respect is important, it will be the actions of the government that demonstrate what that really means.”

Other highlights from the Speech from the Throne include:

-Eliminating the deficit by 2017-18
-After the deficit is eliminated, holding expenditure increases to one per cent below GDP growth until the province's debt-to-GDP ratio returns to the same level as before the recession.
-Addressing the need for improvement to rural roads and bridges.
-Working with Aboriginal communities to ensure that the benefits of resource development are shared and opportunities for education, training and employment are established.
-Allowing welfare recipients to retain more of their cheque after they return to work.
-Helping disabled people enter the workforce by moving the Accessibility Directorate to the Ministry of Economic Development.
-Working to end coal-fired energy generation.
-More consultation on the location of wind turbines.
-Continuing with the expansion of full-day kindergarten
-Continuing to offer the 30-per-cent-off-tuition grant for post-secondary students.



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