Queen's Park Watch: The Throne Speech and Beyond
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Queen’s Park Watch: The Throne Speech and Beyond

Dalton McGuinty's Throne Speech this week told us we're in for a choppy ride. The question is, what's going to get chopped?

On Tuesday, Premier Dalton McGuinty offered up his Throne Speech, which in spite of the whimsical mental image it conjures is a garden variety update wherein the Premier pontificates on the state of the province and tells you what the government plans to do to make things better or at least not too much worse.

Faced with a newly minoritized government and a deteriorating economic environment, the Preem put on a brave face and vowed not only to keep governing for a full four-year mandate, but to deliver on all campaign promises AND kill the deficit by 2018 AND hold the line on taxes AND avoid cuts on the the 70-odd per cent of the budget represented by health care and education.

The challenge is that tax revenues will be far lower than originally forecast, as highlighted in Finance Minister Dwight Duncan’s economic report yesterday.

With Europe facing a slow-motion economic collapse and the U.S. Congress unable to agree on cuts to bloated and unsustainable spending, Ontario is feeling the blowback. Revenue is down almost $800 million versus expectations this year, and we’re already digging into the one-billion-dollar contingency cookie jar to make up the difference.

What this means for the Liberals is that they’ll have to cut overall increases in spending to one per cent annually, a tough task for a government that’s been mainlining taxpayer cash for the past eight years, with average yearly spending growth of seven per cent. And if they take the advice of economic advisor Don Drummond, they’ll have to do it while upping spending on healthcare and education by three per cent and one per cent respectively, meaning slashing and burning everywhere else.

PC leader and future Survivor contestant Tim Hudak, still convinced he can win the last election if he hollers loud enough, said his party wouldn’t support the Throne Speech and demanded an immediate wage freeze for civil servants. However, while the speech vote is considered a confidence motion, it’s unlikely to spark an election. NDP leader Andrea Horvath took a more measured approach, saying she’d like to work with the Liberals, although hinting wistfully that maybe the Grits could reconsider their planned corporate tax cuts.

Media response was mixed. The Sun’s delightfully mad Christina Blizzard vented her considerable spleen on all things McGuinty, using the terse single-sentence paragraphs for which her publication is famed to predict that the Grit government would be gone within two years. Newish kid Huffington Post (“Call me HuffPo!”) opined that Premier McMoneybags might have trouble adjusting to a new world where programs can’t be funded just by giving the taxpayer another shake. Martin Regg Cohn in the Star wondered aloud if maybe the Dippers had this one right, and we could hold back on corporate tax cuts for a while (for what it’s worth, our response to the Throne Speech was a languid yawn, a condescending smirk, and this post).

Aware of the reaction the bad news speech would incite, Liberal speechwriters waxed statespersonlike. “We are reassured by history. For it teaches us that, through the ages, societies have faced challenges similar to ours and, with ingenuity, resilience and compassion, prevailed.” While this is indeed more reassuring than referencing the numerous societies which outstripped their resource base, collapsed, and landed forgotten and unmourned in history’s dumpster, it’s hardly a guarantee that we can tackle austerity any more successfully than Greece or Italy. And if the cards are all out on the table, it remains to be seen exactly what’s going to have to be discarded from the hand.