Canada: Ontario Liberal Government’s Speech From The Throne: Key Priorities For 2014

On Thursday July 3, 2014 his Honour the Lieutenant Governor, the Honourable David Onley delivered the Wynne Government's Speech from the Throne (the "Speech") to open the 41st Parliament of Ontario.

The Speech outlined the Government's key policy priorities for the coming legislative session and sets the tone for how the new Government will approach the challenges it faces in moving its agenda forward. The Government believes that Ontario is a place of endless possibilities. It commits to work with the opposition parties in a spirit of renewed cooperation to get the people's business done. The Government indicates that its central objectives will be fiscal responsibility, economic growth and increased employment. It indicates that it will restrain government spending to reduce Ontario's debt-to-GDP ratio while recommitting itself to eliminate the deficit by 2017-2018.

On July 14, the stage will be set for the re-introduction of the budget that was defeated in the last Provincial Legislature ("May 1 Budget").

This Bulletin provides a brief summary of those elements of the Speech that will be of interest to BLG's clients and contacts.

Building from the Activist Centre

The Speech outlined the Government's comprehensive plan to rebuild Ontario and stimulate economic growth through a wide range of investments in key economic and social policy sectors. This includes key investments in manufacturing, health care, public infrastructure, skills training and retirement security. In terms of public involvement, the Government also indicates that it will "implement its plan by convening people first, instead of directing them. It will not invite your questions only after decisions are taken, but as decisions are made. Your Government will put evidence before ideology and choose partnership over partisanship".

Jobs as Job One

The Speech states that a top priority of the Wynne government is to grow the economy and to create high value jobs. Besides the strategic investments in various economic sectors mentioned above, the Government will focus on tackling child poverty, increasing access to post-secondary education and assisting businesses to become more globally competitive. This is all part of the Government's plan to stimulate economic growth and opportunity.

Building on People's Talent and Skills

Included in the investments in skills training, the Government plans to increase wages for early childhood educators and ensure province- wide access to full day kindergarten. One new education program mentioned in the Speech is Experience Ontario – work experience for high school students. These initiatives are part of the Governments overall agenda to reform public education that will provide Ontarians the knowledge required to compete globally.

Building Infrastructure and a Modern Transportation Network

The Speech also outlines the new 10-year, $130 billion investment in infrastructure that was mentioned in the May 1 Budget and numerous times during the recent election campaign. This includes roads, public transit, hospitals, schools, universities, colleges, regional public transit – virtually every aspect of the province's physical and social infrastructure.

Building a Dynamic Business Climate on a Foundation of Fiscal Responsibility

The Government indicates that it will work with the business community to create a healthy and diverse economy that will better weather the volatility of business cycles. The Government will also lead more trade missions to key markets, including China.

The Speech also mentions that the Jobs and Prosperity Fund that targets key economic sectors for support, including agri-food, communications technology, advanced manufacturing and automotive.

In terms of fiscal policy priorities, the Government restated its commitment to eliminate the deficit by the 2017-2018 budget. In addition, new legislation will be introduced to increase income tax on those earning over $150,000 annually (top two percent of income earners).

A new office of President of Treasury Board will be created that will have responsibility for overseeing labour relations between the Government and the Ontario Public Services and the broader public service. The Treasury Board will also lead the Government's oversight of government agencies, boards and commissions.

Retirement Security

Another key signature policy of the Wynne Government is the new Ontario Retirement Pension Plan. The Government indicates that enhancing the Canada Pension Plan would be its preferred solution. However, in the absence of a federal partner, the Government indicates that its new plan will ensure an additional pension payout similar to the Canada Pension Plan. Former CEO (Michael Nobrega) of the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement plan will lead the implementation of the new retirement plan.

Leadership That Builds Ontario And Canada

The Speech indicates that Ontario will work with other jurisdictions on key economic initiatives. One key area mentioned is the Ring of Fire mining development in Northern Ontario. The Government commits to establishing a "Ring of Fire Development Corporation" within the next 60 days and $1 billion in transportation infrastructure funding. It indicates that it will continue to try to bring the Federal Government to the table.

In addition, the Government will continue to move forward with energy conservation and demand management programs and its commitment to renewable energy development. The Speech mentions working with other provinces and territories to create a "Canadian Energy Strategy" to coordinate climate change management strategies across Canadian jurisdictions.

Building an Open and Transparent Government

The Government plans to re-introduce the Public Sector and MPP Accountability and Transparency Act, 2014. This includes a range of initiatives to expand oversight of Ontario's agencies, boards and commissions while also introducing reforms to the Lobbyists Registration Act, 1998. From requiring MPPs to publish their expenses, to salary caps for crown corporation executives, the proposed legislation will have a significant impact on the Government.

Building a Fairer and Healthier Ontario

The Speech outlines the Government's ongoing efforts to transform the health care sector through investments in community care and the guarantee that every Ontarian have a primary care provider. In other words, the government is moving forward with its $3.3 billion Action Plan for Health Care.

Another key initiative includes poverty reduction. Within 60 days, the Government commits to introducing a new "poverty reduction strategy" and will bring forward legislation that will tie increases to the Ontario Child Benefit to inflation indexes. Also, legislation will be introduced to increase the minimum wage at the rate of inflation. Further, it will expand its Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative and its Investment in Affordable Housing Program.

Next Steps

The Speech will be debated in the Legislature for a number of days starting on July 7 and then, on July 14, the Minister of Finance will re-introduce legislation to implement the earlier May 1 Budget.

With a majority government, the legislation to implement the budget will pass without the drama more typical with minority governments.

Taken at its word, the Government is interested in dialogue and debate with stakeholders. There
has never been a better time for stakeholders with issues deserving of consideration to come forward and make their case with the Government.

The GR Group at BLG stands ready to provide effective strategic policy and process advice with respect to your issues in your dealings with the Government of Ontario and its various government agencies, boards and commissions.

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The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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