Throne speech first major test for new Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne


Frank Gunn/CP

TORONTO – Premier Kathleen Wynne will face her first major test in the top job when her government’s throne speech is unveiled Tuesday.

Read by Lt. Gov. David Onley, the speech outlines the government’s agenda at the start of the legislative session.

It’s also a confidence motion — which means it could trigger an election if both opposition parties vote against it.

But Wynne has promised that there will be something in the speech for the Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats.

She says her talks with Opposition Leader Tim Hudak and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath have been productive, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be bumps in the road.

Wynne says it’s up to them to decide if they want to work with the minority Liberals to make the parliament work.

“I know that there will be issues that we’re going to have to deal with, and I know that there will be points of friction,” she said last week.

“But I also know that the people of Ontario want this government to work, and so I’m going to do everything in my power — we’re going to do everything in our power — to make that the reality.”

The New Democrats have already given Wynne a list of measures they want her to implement.

They include 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.

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

It’s one of the political land mines Wynne has inherited that 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 — at a cost to taxpayers of at least $230 million — 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.

Her transition team has met with union leaders and Wynne made an appearance at a conference of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, which welcomed her with open arms and several standing ovations.

Wynne, who named herself agriculture minister, also made a trip to Bradford, Ont., to meet with farmers to reinforce her promise to make rural issues a priority — an area where the Liberals lost many seats in the 2011 election.

She’s been branded as a more left-leaning successor to McGuinty, but Wynne says she will balance social justice and her government’s efforts to eliminate a $12-billion deficit.

She spent the last week brushing up on her Bay Street credentials, meeting with some business heavyweights and the Ontario chamber of commerce to talk about jobs. Economist Don Drummond, who provided a roadmap for slaying the deficit last year, is part of her transition team.

The Tories have cast doubt on Wynne’s ability to lift Ontario out of the red ink, saying she’s too much like her predecessor, who doubled government spending during his nine-year tenure.

Unlike the NDP, the Tories haven’t given Wynne a shortlist of items they’d like her to implement.

They say they want to see “fundamental change” in how the Liberals are approaching job creation and the province’s ballooning debt.

Conservative insiders say they’re looking for a more holistic approach to the province’s fiscal problems.

Like Drummond, the Tories say Wynne doesn’t necessarily have to adopt every one of their ideas, released in a series of so-called “white papers.” But if she doesn’t, the Tories want to see a plan that achieves the same goal: eliminating the deficit while doing more to create jobs.

If there aren’t any specifics in the throne speech, the opposition parties will be demanding an answer in the spring budget — Wynne’s next major test as premier.

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