This week on Inside Ontario: Premier Dalton McGuinty gives a major speech at the Economic Club of Canada on "tough economic times and tough solutions" in advance of the Speech from the Throne and the Fall Economic Statement. Donna Cansfield, the lone female candidate for Speaker of the Ontario Legislature, is the frontrunner and could be Ontario's first female speaker. Opposition leaders Andrea Horwath of the NDP and Tim Hudak of the PCs met with McGuinty last week for the first time since the election and promptly had their ideas shot down. And, McGuinty tasks new Energy Minister Chris Bentley with making peace when it comes to wind turbines in rural Ontario.
Last Tuesday, Premier Dalton McGuinty made a major speech at the Economic Club of Canada. The topic, Chris Selley writes, “tough economic times, and the tough solutions thereto.” Steve Paikin attended and live tweeted McGuinty’s speech. You can watch a video of the Premier's speech here. So what did McGuinty promise? To hold spending increases to one per cent per annum (you can learn more about what that means by watching our program on “Ontario’s Fiscal Fix Up”), and he’ll reduce the public sector workforce by five per cent by next March and by seven per cent by 2014. Also, there are upcoming recommendations from Don Drummond, economist and chair of the Commission on Reform of Ontario’s Public Services, in his report on how to reform the delivery of Ontario’s core public services due in the New Year.
Chris Selley questions the Premier’s “soothing, this won’t hurt a bit act” about austerity measures and whether McGuinty will follow through with the tough economic measures he’s touting. In fact, he says McGuinty is selling the same voodoo as Toronto Mayor Rob Ford did in the municipal election: fiscal solvency without pain. Like Ford, McGuinty won the election with an austere platform and he should have the support of the Conservatives in passing some tough economic measures. So Selley asks, why the sugar coating?
Mr. McGuinty always says he's the eternal optimist. But optimism can't change the nature of austerity, which is - well, austere. As good as he is at lulling Ontarians into a political coma, the people affected by his proposals are going to scream and yell and march in the streets. Even if conservative-minded Ontarians doubt Mr. McGuinty's resolve, they might as well give him their support - especially if his knees start quivering.
In the Toronto Sun, Christina Blizzard questions McGuinty’s promise not to make arbitrary cuts that will come back to haunt Ontario families. He said Ontarians have seen that movie and he is not planning a sequel. She writes that that movie is “Passing the Buck: The Life and Times of Jean Chretien and his Finance Minister Paul Martin. It was a slasher flick, subtitled, 'How I axed transfer payments to Ontario and forced them to take the blame for deep cuts to health and education.'" Blizzard says the reason Mike Harris and his Ontario PC party had to cut was because of the massive reduction in transfer payments from the feds. She writes that McGuinty and Duncan do not have that same advantage because of their “extravagant spending habits,” and will find it tougher to cut. About that promise to reduce the public sector, Blizzard says she’ll believe it when she sees it.
Tomorrow, Nov. 22, Lieutenant Governor David Onley will deliver the Speech from the Throne, outlining the government’s plan for jobs and the economy. And Wednesday, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan will deliver the Fall Economic Statement.
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Update: Liberal MPP for Brant Dave Levac upset early favourite Liberal MPP for Etobicoke Centre Donna Cansfield in a second-ballot victory to become Speaker of the Ontario Legislature yesterday afternoon.
Etobicoke-Centre Liberal MPP Donna Cansfield is hoping to make history today. She is the front runner, and lone woman in the four-candidate race, to win this afternoon’s election for speaker of the Ontario Legislature. If she won, Cansfield would shatter a gender barrier at Queen’s Park: the prestigious position has only ever been held by men in Ontario. But she is campaigning on more than gender. The former cabinet minister, first elected in 2003, has signaled that she will not run for re-election in the 2015 election (although an election could come sooner than that given the minority government) and so believes that this will give her a great deal of autonomy in refereeing MPPs in the Legislature. “It certainly helps people understand how firmly I believe in the impartiality of this speaker’s position, which is the most important trait I can bring to the table,” she said.
While Cansfield doesn’t want to emphasize gender, Tory MPP for Nepean-Carleton Lisa MacLeod said it can’t be ignored and added, “If she were to be elected speaker, my daughter gets to see a female face in one of the portraits and that is significant,” said MacLeod, referring to the large oil paintings of every Ontario speaker that hang on the first floor of the Legislature.
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Globe and Mail
This past week Premier Dalton McGuinty met with opposition leaders for the first time since the Oct. 6 election to discuss their ideas in advance of the legislature re-opening today.
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath proposed her campaign promise to remove the provincial HST from home heating bills. She promised her party would introduce the measure in the form of a private member's bill. And the Toronto Sun reports that the Ontario New Democrats and the Ontario PCs, who together hold the majority of seats in the Ontario Legislature, will back a private member's bill by rookie NDP MPP for Manitoulin-Algoma Mike Mantha, to take the provincial portion of the HST off of home heating charges. If passed, the bill would mean an 8 per cent break in the cost of keeping homes warm by natural gas, heating oil or other fuels. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath and PC Tim Hudak met last Wednesday to discuss the private member's bill and, while on opposite ends of the political spectrum, agree on the need to reduce the costs of living for Ontarians.
Even though the opposition hold the majority of seats and could outvote the Liberals, the governing party controls which bills get called for final reading and have said they won't call this one. Especially since Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said the measure would open a $350-million hole in Ontario's books at a time where Ontario needs to find savings to reduce its deficit. Duncan said he would look to opposition leaders for recommendations on where to trim the provincial budget to accommodate this promise.
Then on Friday, Premier Dalton McGuinty and Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak had a similar 30-minute closed-door meeting. Hudak said he came away from the meeting "frustrated" and "disappointed" that McGuinty had no interest in his ideas, such as his proposal for a mandated wage freeze that would affect more than 1 million Ontario public servants. Hudak says he expected more from the premier given that drastic cuts must be made in light of Ontario's budget deficit.
But Hudak's wage-freeze proposal has been questioned by constitutional experts who say a legislated wage freeze could be illegal for Ontario's 710,000 unionized public employees and their 350,000 managers. The reason is a 2007 Supreme Court of Canada decision that struck down a B.C. law dismantling union contracts and stripping job protection for health workers. And so the court's decision likely means that unpaid furloughs, such as the "Rae Days," imposed by NDP premier Bob Rae in 1993, would be illegal now. Hudak believes his proposal could withstand a Charter challenge, but McGuinty's Liberals have resisted such proposals because of this case.
Following the meeting, Hudak issued a warning in an email to supporters saying the PCs would pull the plug on the governing Liberals within one year "if necessary."
And, for his part, Premier Dalton McGuinty is signaling to opposition parties that while the Liberals might be one seat shy of a majority, they are still in charge. The Premier said he wanted to hear new ideas from opposition leaders that are "realistic," given the province's economic and fiscal situation, but found the two major initiatives offered are at odds with his policy agenda to rein in program spending and erase Ontario's deficit.
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London Free Press
Ontario’s new Energy Minister, Liberal MPP for London West Chris Bentley, is also the government’s point man to make peace with rural Ontarians. The recent election cost Premier Dalton McGuinty many rural seats, which many believe was due to his government’s actions on wind turbines. In particular, the government took control from municipalities about where wind turbines will be installed. Bentley has promised to listen to suggestions on how to make wind turbines more acceptable in rural areas, but he maintains that science shows turbines pose no health risk and he has no plans to let their location be returned to local control. Rural foes, who were hopeful that Bentley would bring a new approach to the Green Energy Act, already appear disappointed. With 2,000 new turbines approved, the London Free Press reports rural opponents of the Liberals and their windmills say there is “no change in the wind with Bentley’s arrival.”
To learn more about Ontario provincial politics, visit TVO's Civics 101 microsite.