1. "There's common ground that transcends politics."
Ever the optimist, Kathleen Wynne is fond of saying there's always room for compromise. She said it in the Throne Speech on February 19 and repeated it later at her press conference. Under normal circumstances, maybe. But the PCs are in no mood. It's attack dog mode all the way. Word leaked shortly after the ink was dry on the speech that the PCs would be tabling a contempt motion over the gas plants fiasco next day. Back to the pre-prorogue gridlock future.
Wynne has committed to an all-party committee to investigate that mess and to testify herself. Not good enough. For a second there, in the moments after the speech had been delivered, it looked like the PCs might block a motion to adjourn the house, a formality. They were only joking, of course. But the signal was clear.
As for the Libs' contribution to finding that middle ground, it was revealed on page 16 of the 17-page document under the heading The Way Forward. "Ideas will be put forward with optimism and purpose, and voices will not be raised solely for the pursuit or retention of power."
There were enough poetic flourishes in those last two pages to give the impression that the Libs, arrogant under McGuinty, are prepared to come down from their high horse - or maybe they're just trying to guilt-trip the opposition. "The tools of progress must be forged in the fire of our collective will," the Throne Speech says. "If we can hope to serve Ontario, then we must act together, as one. The people of Ontario expect this of all members of the legislative assembly. It is what they want and it is what they deserve."
2. NDP leader Andrea Horwath has all our asses fooled. She doesn't actually want an election. Hmmm.
Easy to mistake her political brinksmanship in recent weeks as a sign she wants to go to the polls. On Tuesday, Horwath drew a line in the sand, calling the Throne Speech "lip service" and "vague in the extreme," and said the NDP would not be supporting the minority Lib government unless certain demands were met in the upcoming budget, among them a reduction in car insurance premiums.
But there was plenty in the document for the NDP to chew on, including reduction of car insurance premiums as well as initiatives for youth employment and home care, two other NDP demands.
Some union leaders have made no secret of the fact that they want to see the NDP enter into some kind of accord, formal or otherwise, with the Libs. CAW head Ken Lewenza had some pointed words on the subject for the NDP chief, suggesting party operatives are hotter on public opinion polls that show their woman on top than on making minority government work. Ouch.
Horwath, whose personal popularity is undeniable, faces a dilemma. If she decides to cooperate and gives the Libs breathing room to govern, she puts her own future shot at the premier's chair at greater risk. The longer Wynne stays in power, the better voters get to know her and the better the Libs' chances of re-election.
3. PC leader Tim Hudak is still fighting the McGuinty agenda.
In his post-Throne Speech press conference at Queen's Park, Hudak spent most of his time pushing the crisis button on "the biggest jobs crisis and debt crisis of our lifetime" and talking about Wynne predecessor Dalton McGuinty's policies. The prepared statement issued to reporters read like it had been written before the Throne Speech was delivered. No surprise, Hudak said the PCs wouldn't even wait for the budget. They'd be voting against the Throne Speech.
"Anyone who has ever been faced with a crisis or emergency will tell you that being cautious, being incremental will not save you," Hudak said.
This had a few in the Queen's Park press corps rolling their eyes. Apparently, they've seen it all before during those sparsely attended pressers Tim's been holding to flog his latest Pathways To Austerity, I mean Prosperity, white paper.
The PCs have reportedly been assembling a campaign team for months. But this may be a case of "careful what you wish for." Hudak still looks uncomfortable as leader, and his party feels the same way about him. After almost three years at the helm and one election under his belt, he's unable to get past robo replies to straightforward questions.
4. For Wynne, getting the teachers' and public sector unions onside is job number one.
Talks between government officials and teachers and public sector unions have been ongoing since Wynne was crowned. Those discussions have been uniformly described in press reports as "productive." And there was no shortage of good vibes being spread by union heads outside the chamber just after the Throne Speech.
Among those preaching mutual respect, patience and "taking steps in the right direction" were Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario president Sam Hammond and CUPE head Fred Hahn. The biggie for unionists in the speech: a reference to "respect for collective bargaining and a fair and transparent interest arbitration process... not clouded by the indisputable economic realities of our time."
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation declared itself "very pleased" but not prepared to kiss and make up. "Get the OSSTF and the rest will follow" is the theory. Only problem for the government: even if the teachers' union leadership does come aboard, there's no guarantee a royally pissed-off membership will follow at election time. The scars from Bill 115 may be too deep.
5. It all comes down to the budget.
Horwath wouldn't say if all the NDP's demands would have to be met in the upcoming budget for her party to prop up the Libs. She shook off questions on that subject from reporters. Whether the hardball is all for the cameras remains to be seen.
She was unequivocal on road tolls and other revenue tools to pay for transit expansion, things widely expected to form part of the Liberal budget. Horwath says the NDP does not support them. "They're not the answer when people are struggling." That stand may not go over well with the party's Toronto base or enviro supporters the Libs have managed to court away from the NDP since the days of the Green Energy Act.
Wynne, in a little-noticed moment, told reporters the government will be taking budget deliberations to the public for their input once it's tabled, probably sometime in April. That looks like participatory democracy. It will also give her political leverage in the house if she can find public support for her cause.
For all its vagueness, the list of commitments in Wynne's Throne Speech is an optimistically long one. The Libs say they will:
• Balance the books by 2017-18.
• Restrict overall spending increases to 1 per cent below GDP (until the province's debt-to-GDP ratio returns to pre-recession levels).
• Encourage private sector to hire more people with disabilities. And move the Accessibility Directorate from the Ministry of Community and Social Services to Economic Development, Trade and Employment.
• "Explore" an increase in the Employer Health Tax exemption.
• Contribute $50 million to a new venture capital fund for small and medium-sized businesses.
• Advocate for a national strategy on infrastructure and transit.
• Allow those on social assistance to keep more of what they earn, as per recommendations in the Frances Lankin and Munir Sheikh Review of Social Assistance in Ontario.
• Work to reduce insurance rates.
• Expand home care services.
• Renew support for the Ontario Brain Institute.
• Extend all-day kindergarten and childcare.
• Create a permanent premier's youth advisory council.
• Expand French post-secondary education programs in central and southwestern Ontario.