02/19/2013

The Speech from the Throne emphasizes action on economic growth, infrastructure, employment and arbitration.

The Ontario Legislative Assembly opened its new session today with Lieutenant Governor David Onley delivering Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government’s first Throne Speech. The Speech from the Throne was wide-ranging in its subject matter and showed the government’s willingness to find common ground with the Opposition parties to reflect the priorities of Ontarians.

Municipal governments will find the following items of particular interest.

Interest Arbitration: The government pledged “to build a sustainable model of wage negotiation that is respectful of both collective bargaining and a fair, transparent process for interest arbitration in Ontario.” This is potentially positive news for municipal governments as AMO on behalf of its members and the Emergency Services Steering Committee has released last week a checklist for an accountable and transparent interest arbitration system that takes the fiscal and economic circumstances of a municipality as priority in looking at a total award. AMO took advantage of being at the House to press for early meetings to further advance the Board’s work on this important matter.

Infrastructure: The Throne Speech noted the need for infrastructure investments as a foundation for economic productivity and quality of life. The government commits to addressing the need for improvements to rural roads and bridges, suburban transit and the solutions to gridlock in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Areas. To do so, the government wants to engage in a conversation with the people of Ontario, municipalities and the federal government to discuss the costs and funding options and supports for this infrastructure. AMO has noted the need for investments in municipal infrastructure, including roads and bridges, for some time. AMO has repeatedly called for increased, predictable investment in municipal infrastructure, and particularly roads and bridges, to ensure residents of our communities are able to participate in the modern economy.

The Speech also committed to ensuring that local communities will be engaged from the beginning in the location decisions of facilities such as energy plants, casinos and quarries to ensure the concerns of residents are addressed and communities are willing recipients. There were no specifics on how this might occur but AMO is anxious to begin discussions on what roles and responsibilities could look like.

The government will also take action to invest in trade corridors and build trading networks; ensure reliable, affordable energy across Ontario; and invest in access to the Ring of Fire.

Fair Society:
The government intends to act on social assistance transformation, following the recommendations of The Commission on Social Assistance Reform to help the unemployed find a job and allowing social assistance recipients to keep more of their earnings in an effort to ensure their participation in the workforce. The government also proposes to work with private sector employers to increase participation of Ontarians with disabilities in the workforce.

The government also pledged to increase support for home care, expansion of mental health services and to create a seniors strategy to promote coordination of services and care providers including long term care homes.

Other Matters: 
The government also pledged fiscal action to return the Province’s debt-to-GDP ratio to pre-recession levels, restraining spending increases to below 1 per cent until the deficit is eliminated in 2017-18. AMO will be looking for the continued commitment to the upload agreement’s phase-in and its timeline without change in the upcoming budget.

Summary:
The Throne Speech provided a number of positive signals for change and we want to provide practical advice on how they can be achieved. AMO will keep members informed on initiatives related to the Throne Speech.  In addition, AMO will be participating in upcoming pre-budget consultations and will share information with members on this too. The details of the government’s fiscal priorities will become known in the Ontario Budget, expected in April.