Since the swearing-in of the Ford government on June 29, the Progressive Conservatives have not wasted any time on moving their agenda forward. They have made several announcements on issues like cap-and-trade, renewable energy projects, the slimming of OHIP+, and the departure of the CEO and Board of Hydro One in the last two weeks. In addition, they announced the convening of a rare summer session of the Legislative Assembly.
After electing a Speaker yesterday (MPP Ted Arnott, Wellington Halton-Hills), MPPs got down to business today with the reading of the Ford government’s first Speech from the Throne by Lieutenant-Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell, entitled “A Government For The People”. This theme was prevalent throughout the Speech, and the word “people” appeared thirteen times in the body.
The speech reiterated commitments made by Premier Doug Ford and the Ontario Progressive Conservatives over the election campaign. It addressed key priorities to: save money for taxpayers, create and protect jobs in Ontario and restore accountability in government institutions.
A significant announcement was related to the province’s finances. In addition to performing a line-by-line audit of spending to identify duplication and waste, the PC government reiterated their commitment to call Commission of Inquiry into the financial practices of government to restore accountability in the public finances. It will be interesting to see who is appointed to lead the inquiry and what the terms of reference will be. This Commission is not without some precedent. In 1995, the PC government led by Mike Harris established the Ontario Financial Services Commission (OFRC) to review the government’s accounting, reporting, and financial management practices. The report contained 55 recommendations that fell into three main areas: Planning, Financial Reporting & Accounting and Crown agencies.
Other key commitments in the Speech from Throne include:
- Providing tax relief to parents, small businesses and the working poor;
- Working with the federal government to stand up to tariffs from the United States and protect Ontario’s interests in NAFTA negotiations;
- Returning Ontario to a balanced budget on a responsible timeline (to be determined);
- Working with the City of Toronto to develop a world-class transit system;
- Expanding the sale of beer and wine into convenience stores, grocery stores and big-box stores;
- Investing in 15,000 long-term care homes and substantial funding ($3.8 billion) on mental health (figure likely reached by combining matching federal and provincial dollars of $1.9 billion each), and;
- Loosening certain restrictions on police services and provide them with additional tools to support their work.
The speech was a clear indication to political watchers that the Ford government will continue its rapid action to move its agenda forward. To date, virtually all announcements made by the government have not been too surprising as they are enacting policies they said they would enact during the campaign, or policies which are clearly in keeping with a populist theme.
The legislature will start debating bills and Premier Ford and his cabinet will face their first Question Period on Monday, July 16. All indications point towards a short summer session focused on passing legislation to end the York University strike and any legislation required to scrap the cap-and-trade system.