Ontario residents will be able to work past age 65 and have more choice over which schools their children attend, the provincial government promised in its throne speech on Wednesday.

The government will also introduce harsher penalties for impaired driving and create special courts to try cases of child exploitation, Lt.-Gov. James Bartleman told the Ontario legislature.

The Eves government will actively seek new sources of electricity supply and phase out the use of coal-fired generating plants by 2015.

Much of the speech was devoted to re-stating spending commitments made last month in a budget delivered outside the legislature.

The speech's highlights:

  • A promise of "legislation to allow more seniors to remain active in the workforce, allowing people to retire at a time of their own choosing and not at an arbitrarily, government-appointed time."
  • Guaranteed waiting times will be put in place for medical procedures including general surgery, cancer treatment and diagnostic services such as MRIs.
  • Parents will get "more choice to enroll their children in any available school within their board." However, "schools will still give first placement priority to students who live nearby."
  • The government will impose a lifetime licence suspension after two convictions for impaired driving, and "direct vehicle seizure in appropriate cases."

The government restated its budgetary commitment to increase health-care spending and introduce aggressive recruiting programs to attract doctors and nurses to under-serviced areas in the province.

Tax cuts are also on the agenda, with a renewed promise to cut small business taxes to five per cent in 2004 and four per cent in 2005.

Noting that the government had tabled five consecutive balanced budgets for the first time since 1908, Bartleman said the Tories would continue to balance the province's books.

Ontario was asked by the United States to help with law enforcement in Iraq, and the government said it is working with the Ontario Provincial Police "to respond to this request."

Perhaps the most widely leaked promise in the speech was one to eliminate mandatory retirement at age 65. Canada's labour laws don't generally impose a specific age for retirement, with exceptions for some, including airline pilots, military personnel, judges and firefighters.

Currently in Ontario, employees who are 65 or older are barred from making a human-rights complaint if they are forced to retire due to their age.

The move to permanently suspend drivers' licences after two impaired-driving convictions would strengthen the drunk-driving penalty considerably. Under the current rules, a lifetime ban on driving is not automatic until a fourth conviction is registered.

The speech began with a tribute to the province's health-care workers and their efforts to contain an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in Toronto.