POLITICS

Onley relieved in an 'apolitical way' with majority government

09/22/2014 01:54 EDT | Updated 11/22/2014 05:59 EST
TORONTO - Ontario's outgoing lieutenant-governor says he was relieved — "in a completely apolitical way" — when voters elected a majority government in June.

On his last full day on the job, David Onley, said he was having constitutional discussions for weeks prior to the provincial election, which was expected to be very close.

The election had been triggered over the Liberal government's budget, and if the Liberals then won a minority at the polls they would then have to bring back that budget, which could in all likelihood have been defeated, Onley said at a news conference Monday.

"Then we'd be right back at square root one," he said. "It would have been a very unprecedented situation and even as I met with the constitutional advisers in the days and weeks prior to that we were very, very aware that we were potentially going into very unusual territory."

Onley joked that he had a secret plan in the event of a tight election to leave all the lights on in his suite then sneak out of the legislature through the tunnels so people would think he was working away all night.

"Of course this one was forecast to be a very, very close election," he said. "But as it turned very quickly to a majority government I would say in a completely apolitical way we were very relieved."

Onley, who uses a motorized scooter after having polio as a child, used his time as lieutenant-governor to champion accessibility issues.

When he was installed as lieutenant-governor seven years ago Onley said accessibility was a yes-no proposition, but now he has brought the issue of hiring people with disabilities to the forefront.

"I firmly believe that the resolution of the unemployment crisis for people with disabilities is fundamentally necessary if the economy is ever to achieve its full potential," he said.

"I don't think full economic recovery can actually occur until the hundreds of thousands of Ontarians who are currently on government assistance who are trained to work, who want to work, are able to work but can't get past that hiring process, until they are actually employed and become, quite frankly, taxpayers."

It's "counterintuitive," Onley said, but businesses that hire people with disabilities see their profits and productivity increase.

"I feel like we're on the deck of an aircraft carrier and we've been loading the plane up for about seven years and we just pushed the catapult button and it's just launching itself down the runway of the flight deck," he said. "It's only going to take a short time to really accelerate."

Before becoming lieutenant-governor, Onley was one of Canada's first visibly disabled newscasters and was a prominent face on television as a science and technology specialist and weatherman.

After leaving the job he will teach politics and the office of the lieutenant-governor part-time at the University of Toronto and still be "very much involved" in accessibility issues, he said.

The incoming lieutenant-governor, Elizabeth Dowdeswell, a former UN undersecretary general with a long public service record, will be sworn in Tuesday.