TORONTO - An all-party panel set up by Ontario's minority Liberal government is a positive step, but shows Premier Dalton McGuinty still hasn't got the message from the Oct. 6 election, the opposition parties said Monday.
McGuinty, who is on vacation, released an open letter to Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath announcing the creation of the Parliamentary Liaison Group to "ensure the legislature is working for Ontarians."
The Tories and New Democrats both agreed to participate in the new group, but complained that McGuinty was acting as though he still had a majority government by creating the panel without first meeting the opposition leaders as they had requested.
"I have to say I wonder whether in fact Mr. McGuinty does understand that the people made a very specific decision on election night and it’s different from the way things had been going all along," said Horwath.
"This committee was something that Mr. McGuinty decided to put together, and (it) would have been nice to have had a conversation about that."
PC House Leader Jim Wilson called the new group a welcome sign for what he called the "minions" — the house leaders and party whips — but said it was more important that the three leaders actually meet and talk, which they haven't done since election day.
"I just hope this committee isn’t as useless as the committees were under Dalton McGuinty for eight years where they held a majority," said Wilson.
"If that’s going to be the case in terms of the government just saying 'No' all the time, it’ll be a waste of time, but so far I think it’s a good sign — at my level — that they want to talk long-term goals in the house."
The Parliamentary Liaison Group will meet weekly during legislative sittings, and will help keep things running smoothly in the new session, said government house leader John Milloy.
"We're in a new situation right now with a minority parliament, but the message that we've had from the voters is: 'you've got to work together,'" said Milloy.
"It's a chance for us to talk through some of the medium and longer term issues, to designate priorities and to quite frankly flag problems early on."
Milloy dismissed the opposition parties' complaints about McGuinty not reaching out to Hudak and Horwath to discuss the challenges of a minority parliament at the leaders' level.
"The letter was sent from the premier to the two opposition leaders outlining this approach, and hopefully sending a clear message that we want to co-operate," he said.
In his letter to the opposition leaders, McGuinty said the global economic uncertainty means Ontario must remain focused on creating jobs and improving the economy.
"We will welcome positive, constructive ideas that put the interests of Ontarians first as we work to strengthen our economy," wrote McGuinty.
In addition to Milloy, the Liberals on the new panel will be Community Safety Minister Madeleine Meilleur, Environment Minister Jim Bradley and chief government whip Jeff Leal. The Tories and NDP have not yet named their members for the group.