CANADA

Ontario’s new agenda

SHERRI AIKENHEAD May 5 1986
CANADA

Ontario’s new agenda

SHERRI AIKENHEAD May 5 1986

Ontario’s new agenda

CANADA

Perhaps it was the weather—a chilly April day. Or perhaps it was the lack of great expectations. Whatever the reason, only 300 well-wishers accepted Premier David Peterson’s invitation last week to attend the first Liberal government throne speech in 43 years. Snacking on apple juice and cake in the Queen’s Park vestibule, they stood before four video screens to watch Ontario Lt.-Gov.

Lincoln Alexander deliver the 45-minute speech. A blueprint of Peterson’s plans for the next decade, it contained 53 new programs designed to make Ontario “a world-class competitor” in the 21st century. But by focusing on “a framework for longterm achievment,” the speech drew sharp criticism—both from the opposition Conservatives and the Liberals’ own unofficial coalition partner, the New Democrats.

In fact, Peterson seemed to be using the speech to distance himself from the NDP and to appease a business community grown restive by NDP-promoted changes in social policy. Before the 1985 legislative session, the minority government signed a twoyear accord with the New Democrats, which yielded legislation that will ban extra-billing by the province’s doctors and tougher rent controls. But in recent weeks Peterson has quarrelled with NDP Leader Bob Rae, a clear sign that the political marriage is in difficulty.

Certainly, the throne speech—while promising the traditional menu of additional funds for hospitals and senior citizens—had the polished look of a futuristic election platform. The 36-page text served notice that the Liberals believe high technology and entrepreneurship will be Ontario’s springboard into the future. Among

the key initiatives: a 10-year, $l-billion technology research fund; educational programs designed to “provide young people with a bridge to business, industry and employment”; and an investment network that will link investors with entrepreneurs through the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. The address also introduced a new merit award (the Order of Ontario) and declared the government’s intention to enhance Pacific Rim trade.

The opposition quickly criticized the throne speech as too vague and too lofty. Said opposition leader Larry Grossman: “For a party that’s been champing to take power for more than four decades, it’s a pretty tame agenda.” In turn, the NDP’s Rae complained that the premier had offered no hope for the unemployed nor any protection for the environment. But many businessmen were frankly encouraged. Said Ontario Chamber of Commerce president Bernard Wilson: “We are glad the government is finally recognizing that business creates jobs and governments create an environment.” As the legislature resumed sitting after nine weeks, the emerging rift between Liberals and NDP promised to enliven what could be the last session before the next election.

—SHERRI AIKENHEAD in Toronto