Doug Ford's government lays out agenda in Ontario throne speech

Ontario's provincial government promised to audit government spending, end cap-and-trade and scrap the current sex-education curriculum in the throne speech delivered Thursday by Ontario's Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell.

The speech, written by the premier's office, emphasized that change is coming for Ontario. It echoed many of Premier Doug Ford's campaign statements, vowing to sell beer and wine in convenience stores and provide long-term funding for the health-care system.

Titled "A Government for the People," the speech pledged to protect jobs, lower electricity bills and cut taxes.

The government says it will do a Commission of Inquiry into the government's financial practices to identify ways to "restore accountability and trust in Ontario's public finances."

It will include a line-by-line audit of all government spending to "identify and eliminate duplication and waste."

"The era of accounting tricks and sleight of hand must end," the speech said. 

'Onerous restrictions' on police

The speech brings up questions, saying it will respect Ontario's police services by "freeing them from onerous restrictions that treat those in uniform as subjects of suspicion and scorn."

It does not clarify what those "onerous restrictions" are.

​Mike McCormack, president of the Toronto Police Association, says this does not signal a return to the controversial and arbitrary street checks known as "carding."

"It doesn't signal a return to anything. What it signals a return to is a discussion about evidence and facts and what's going on in our communities that needs to be addressed to keep all communities safe," McCormack said.

No mention of climate change, Indigenous people

The speech says the government will introduce a plan to sell beer and wine sales in convenience stores, grocery stores and big box stores. However, it does not mention Ford's campaign plan to introduce "buck-a-beer."

The speech did not mention Indigenous people, and did not include any French.

There was also no mention of climate change. However, the speech repeated Ford's plan to pull out of the cap-and-trade system and said it would oppose all other carbon tax schemes. It also vows to end "green energy contracts" imposed on rural municipalities.

Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser says it's distressing not to hear a plan for climate change. 

"You just can't come in with a wrecking ball and take something down and then not build," he said.

New Minister of Environment Rod Phillips said the government does have a plan but did not provide specifics.

"We do understand that climate change is an issue," he said. "We just disagree with the solution of a carbon tax."

New long-term care beds

The government restated its decision to revoke the current sex-ed curriculum brought in by the Liberals, reverting to the previous version enacted in 1998. The curriculum will be updated to a new "age-appropriate one" after consultation with parents, the speech said. It will also scrap the 'Discovery Math' curricula. 

The speech said government will bring in 15,000 new long-term care beds over the next five years, and $3.8 billion in spending on mental health and addictions, including supportive housing.

It also noted the government will work with the federal government to fight tariffs and stick up for Ontario in NAFTA negotiations.

The speech promised the government will reduce taxes for parents, small businesses and the working poor. During the election, Ford promised to cut the middle class tax rate from 9.15 per cent to 7.32 per cent, but the plan would not be implemented until 2020-2021.

Speech 'very concerning,' says NDP

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the "very concerning" speech shows the government is determined to "take us into a race to the bottom and pull us into the last century." The throne speech talks about the realities of life in 2018 "as if we were back in the '90s," she said.

While it will benefit a select few, Horwath says the government's plan will not help everyday people. 

"If you're a young black man in Scarborough, you will not be well-treated by this government from the looks of this particular throne speech," said Horwath, who slammed the decision to revoke the current sex-ed curriculum. "If you are a young person who is struggling with their gender identity ... you will not be somebody who is well-served by this government, as indicated in this throne speech."

Horwath said the speech also signals that the Tory government will begin to move away from providing essential public services in favour of cutting taxes.

"You might get $15, $20, maybe $100 in your pocket, but you won't be able to access the health care you need," she said. "You won't be able to ensure that your kids are getting a good education. You're not going to be able to afford to buy those services from a couple of extra dollars in your pocket."

Fraser and Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner also expressed dismay around replacing the sex-ed curriculum. Fraser said claims that parents weren't consulted during its development are wrong.  

"The curriculum they're repealing was the most consulted curriculum in Ontario's history," he said.

Schreiner says it's disturbing that the government is "closed for business" when it comes to creating jobs in the clean economy.

"I want to work with Premier Ford on building Ontario up, but is hard when he declares war on the modern world," said Schreiner in a news release. 

Fraser says the mental health system has suffered from decades of cuts, and he looks forward to seeing what investments the government will make in this area.

The speech did not mention ending an ongoing strike at York University, which government said would be one of its priorities for the summer sitting of the legislature.

Ford nonetheless stressed that priority and others in a statement Thursday, saying his government would get to work quickly so "people can see real change fast."

Acting on promises

Less than two weeks after taking office, Ford has already acted on three of his central campaign promises: ending cap and trade, scrapping the sex-ed curriculum and getting rid of the CEO and board of Hydro One.

While Ford's promises won him the election, making more of those promises a reality — and dealing with the consequences — could prove challenging. 

One of the government's previously stated priorities is to bring in legislation to cancel a wind farm in Prince Edward County, which was given its final approval during the election campaign. But construction is nearly completed, and the company involved says scrapping the project could cost Ontarians $100 million. 

"A halt to construction without warning from the ministry would have significant economic consequences for all involved parties," said Hartmut Broesamle, a board member of WPD, a German wind power firm.

"Like all other investors in Canada, WPD assumes that legally granted and valid approvals will be honoured at any time and also in the event of a change of government," he said in a statement on Wednesday. "Anything else would send out a fatal signal to the entire economy."

For Horwath, the cancellation has the whiff of gas plants all over again. Scrapping two gas-fired power plants previously cost Ontario $1.1 billion, according to the auditor general.  

"It's pretty shocking that this Ford Conservative government is doing exactly what the Liberals did when it comes to the cancelling of energy projects," Horwath told reporters Wednesday at the legislature. "It's something that Mr. Ford has to explain to Ontarians why he thinks it's the right thing to do." 

The legislation to cancel the wind power project will also stop the company from suing the province over the move, said government House Leader Todd Smith. Attorney General Caroline Mulroney declined to answer questions about how such a provision would stand up to a court challenge. 

- A carbon tax looms in Ontario's future, despite end of cap and trade 

Another Ford priority in the legislative session is to repeal Ontario's cap-and-trade law. Ford has already withdrawn Ontario from the carbon-pricing market it shared with Quebec and California. What remains unclear is whether repealing the legislation will also nix Ontario's targets for reducing carbon emissions, which are embedded in the law.

Ontario companies have spent $2.9 billion on carbon allowances that have been rendered worthless by a Ford cabinet order banning any sale or trading of the cap-and-trade permits.