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What Does Kathleen Wynne’s Throne Speech Mean for Toronto?

Ontario Liberals reiterate commitment to transit funding, call for better local consultation.

Kathleen Wynne at the Ontario Liberal Party's nominating convention

Kathleen Wynne at the Ontario Liberal Party’s nominating convention.

Ontario’s legislature is back in session, and kicked off this afternoon with new premier Kathleen Wynne’s first speech from the throne. Delivered by Lieutenant Governor David Onley, the speech was Wynne’s attempt to set a more collaborative tone than has characterized Queen’s Park lately—crucial if the minority Liberals are to retain their hold on government and avoid an early election. “For the benefit of the entire province,” read Onley in the opening minutes, “your government intends to work with opposition parties, in a spirit of renewed cooperation, to get the people’s business done.”

As expected, the speech called for a balance between fiscal prudence and social justice, and attempted to define those goals as mutually supporting. Economic prosperity will mean fair-paying jobs for more Ontarians, went the argument, and the more Ontarians participate in the workforce, the more the province as a whole will prosper. (Among the kinds of programs and initiatives included here: working to increase the number of people with disabilities employed in the private sector, focusing on youth internship and apprenticeship programs, and establishing a new venture capital fund to help small- and medium-sized businesses.) There were—also predictably—some nods to some PC goals (such as reducing the debt-to-GDP ratio) and some NDP ones (like cracking down on corporate tax evaders).

Like most throne speeches, today’s was short on specifics, but it did include some strong hints about how Wynne and her government will be approaching some Toronto-area issues, in particular.

Transit

For many Torontonians this was the most-anticipated portion of the speech. Wynne reiterated her commitment to new revenue tools, and took some not-so-subtle shots at naysayers, who have either rejected such tools outright (Mayor Rob Ford) or said we’re not ready for them yet (PC leader Tim Hudak). Ontarians want to have “a serious conversation” about infrastructure needs, went this portion of the speech, which in Toronto’s case means “accelerated, integrated transit planning.” And then: “To build these things and facilitate Ontario’s success, your government believes that smart infrastructure investment can no longer be mired in political rhetoric… If we continue to argue about the tools this investment will require then we are deaf to the symphony of progress that echoes around us. The new government is confident that the people of Ontario are willing to participate in a practical discussion of these costs if they can be guaranteed measurable results.”

The speech also called for greater cooperation between different levels of government on transit specifically. The government will “advocate for a national strategy on infrastructure and transit”—something NDP stalwart Olivia Chow has been championing lately as well, which so far has been rejected by Stephen Harper.

Municipal Relations

“Your government intends to work with municipalities on other issues” besides transit, the throne speech continued. It was more subtle, but it addressed some concerns about, for instance, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation’s strong interest in building a new casino in Toronto, though many in Toronto itself are less sure it’s a good idea. Local communities “must have a voice in their future and a say in their integrated, regional development,” Onley read, “so that local populations are involved from the beginning if there is going to be a gas plant or a casino or a wind plant or a quarry in their hometown.”

Youth Violence

In the post-speech scrum reporters asked Wynne about working with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and Police Chief Bill Blair to address youth violence, especially in the wake of several recent shootings—four Toronto shooting victims in the past few weeks were under the age of 16. She noted that we need to better address the context in which youth involved in violence are often living, calling attention to the social assistance report authored by Frances Lankin and Munir Sheikh as an example of the kind of approach she thinks this situation requires.

The full text of Premier Kathleen Wynne’s throne speech is online. It will be debated at Queen’s Park on Wednesday.

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