Turning throne speech into reality will pose hurdles for Doug Ford
Promises to let convenience stores sell beer, end 'onerous restrictions' on police raise questions
No one could accuse Ontario Premier Doug Ford's government of being unambitious in the agenda set out in its first speech from the throne.
Lowering electricity bills. Cutting business and personal taxes. Reducing gas prices. Ensuring "long-term stable funding" for the health-care system. Adding 15,000 new, long-term care beds. Launching a commission of inquiry into government finances. Building a "world-class transit system" in the Toronto area.
And, crossing Ontario's final frontier: allowing the sale of beer and wine in convenience stores.
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A significant part of the Progressive Conservative agenda involves undoing things the Liberals have done over the past 15 years. Some of that is straightforward. But some of the tasks that Ford has set out for his government will prove far more easily said in a speech than done in reality.
Take the promise about beer and wine in convenience stores. To the average Ontarian, it's a simple move (and one that would be welcomed by many folks.) But there is one big legal hurdle: a contract between the province and Brewers Retail (a.k.a. the Beer Store) that doesn't allow for selling beer from corner stores. It's locked in until 2025.
That means the Ford government will either have to renegotiate the deal, or breach it, and risk the legal consequences. While the agreement opens the door to up to 450 supermarkets to sell beer, it still leaves the Beer Store with a near-stranglehold on the retail market. Why would the company want to renegotiate?
The government's House Leader Todd Smith admits keeping that promise will take time.
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"When it comes to beer and wine in corner stores, it's not going to be a simple thing," Smith told CBC News at Queen's Park on Thursday afternoon, following the speech.
"It's not something that we re probably going to accomplish in the next few weeks. But it is something that we are committed to bringing to the people of Ontario because that's what the people of Ontario really want."
Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner says he is not opposed to the sale of beer from corner stores, but says he is concerned it's another example of the Ford government taking risks by not recognizing contracts. He also points to the withdrawal from the cap-and-trade market and the promised cancellation of a wind-farm project in Prince Edward County.
"These things need to be done in ways that honour existing contracts so we don't expose [the province] to financial risk," said Schreiner in an interview after the speech.
Even the move to scrap the sex-ed curriculum could face a legal hurdle: the Canadian Civil Liberties Association says if the government replaces the current curriculum with the 1998 version as promised, it will launch a legal challenge, arguing the move discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation.
"It's pretty clear that this government is bent and determined to drag this province down, to take us backwards, to take us into a race to the bottom and pull us into the last century. That's what this throne speech says to me," NDP Leader Andrea Horwath told reporters on Thursday.
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You can look to the throne speech for hints of which campaign promises the Ford government is most determined to fulfill. You can also see which promises they're hedging on.
Perhaps the most difficult one will be balancing the budget. "The era of accounting tricks and sleight of hand must end," declares the speech. So no cooking the books to make the numbers look good.
Without wholesale slashing, it could be a long time before Finance Minister Vic Fedeli gets rid of the deficit. The magnitude of that challenge is acknowledged, subtly, in the speech:
"Ultimately, your government intends to return Ontario to a balanced budget on a timetable that is responsible, modest and pragmatic."
Try to find "ultimately" on any calendar.
The speech also leaves some questions. One of the biggest: what do the PCs mean by "freeing [police] from onerous restrictions that treat those in uniform as subjects of suspicion and scorn"?
Does that mean the government will end the restrictions on carding? We don't know, because Community Safety Minister Michael Tibollo was not available to answer questions after the speech.
With no mention of Indigenous people, no lines spoken in French, and no acknowledgement that climate change exists, the speech was a clear departure from throne speeches during Kathleen Wynne's run as premier.
After 15 years of Liberals, Ontario voted for a very different kind of government. You could clearly hear that difference in every single minute of this 15-minute speech.