POLITICS
11/22/2011 04:05 EST | Updated 01/21/2012 05:12 EST

Throne Speech: Ontario Liberals Open Fall Session Of Legislature

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TORONTO - The Opposition vowed to vote against the minority Liberal government's throne speech Tuesday just minutes after the start of the first session of the Ontario legislature since the Oct. 6 election.

The throne speech repeated Liberal campaign promises to introduce a $1,500 home renovation tax credit for seniors, cut college and university tuition fees by 30 per cent starting Jan. 1, and move toward all-day GO train commuter service in the Golden Horseshoe.

However, the 12-page speech did not address the Tories' two biggest concerns, jobs and "runaway" government spending.

"There were no new ideas," complained Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak.

"I’m deeply disappointed, so we cannot support this throne speech."

The speech, read by Lt.-Gov. David Onley, said the Liberals would govern based on ideas they put forward during the fall campaign, and spoke about the "four-year mandate" they were given.

"Your government will implement the plan it campaigned on, and Ontario's elected it to carry out, as a strong, steady government," said Onley.

Premier Dalton McGuinty said the Liberals were open to ideas from the opposition parties, but added the government felt its proposals were better than anything put forward by the Tories or NDP.

"There are at least three or four passages that I insisted be in there that speak of the need for us to work together," McGuinty told reporters.

"I’m absolutely convinced that we are going to find opportunities to ensure that the opposition sees themselves reflected in initiatives that we bring forward as a government."

The last thing voters want to see is partisan games at the legislature, said NDP Leader Andrea Howath as she vowed to take the Liberals up on their promise to work with the opposition parties.

"I think a game of brinkmanship is the last thing people need on the first day back of the legislature," said Horwath.

"I think they have opened a little door here in terms of working with other parties, and I’m hoping to see some of that in the next little while."

Horwath said the NDP would not support a Conservative amendment to the throne speech to impose a public sector wage freeze, something the Liberals also reject.

The throne speech talks about reducing the size of the Ontario public services even more by 2014, an idea the Canadian Union of Public Employees said could have come directly from the Tories.

"When you have the government saying that it’s going to strengthen the economy and create jobs, but then by government policy cut public sector jobs that help to contribute to local economies, they’re actually legislating unemployment," said CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn. "It makes no sense."

Hudak warned the minority Liberal government would have to be willing to accept Opposition amendments if it wants to survive, saying he's made it clear government spending must be reined in.

"That ball’s now in Dalton McGuinty’s court, but I’ve been very clear from the beginning: if you want Conservative votes, you have to address the spending crisis and the jobs crisis," said Hudak.

"We saw no new ideas to hit either of those issues."

The government said the seniors' home renovation tax credit, which would cost $136 million a year, combined with an increase in home-care services, will stimulate the economy by creating jobs, and keep people out of more expensive hospitals and long-term care homes.

"These two initiatives would improve seniors' quality of life by allowing them to stay in their own homes longer, and provide a real, tangible benefit to taxpayers by saving long-term (health) care costs," said Onley.

The government wants to cut the growth in health spending by more than half to about three per cent a year, and limit its overall spending increase to one per cent, but that will mean unspecified cuts in other departments.

Some details will come Wednesday when Finance Minister Dwight Duncan delivers his fall economic update in the legislature, but the throne speech spoke about dealing with the "new global economic reality," without offering concrete steps.

"For the next four years, your government will focus its efforts on strengthening Ontario's economy and creating jobs," it said.

The speech talked about the need to curb government spending so Ontario can stay on track to eliminate a $16-billion deficit by 2017-18, and warned every new dollar spent would have to come from savings found elsewhere.

The tuition fee cut for families earning under $160,000 a year, which actually comes in the forms of grants — $1,600 for university students and $730 for college students — will cost $423 million a year when fully implemented.

The Liberals say they can find $200 million in savings at its major agencies by 2014, and hopes to save another $500 million by reducing the size of the civil service.

The speech also repeated Liberal promises not to raise taxes or cut health care as the government looks for ways to stay on its deficit-elimination schedule in the face of years of very slow growth.