Ontario legislature returns Monday with throne speech to lay out Premier Kathleen Wynne's priorities

The Liberal government hopes to reset its agenda when the Ontario legislature resumes Monday, but the opposition parties will be on the attack over electricity rates, the privatization of Hydro One and the record $300-billion debt.

Electricity rates, sale of Hydro One and provincial debt all on opposition agenda

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne will attempt to reboot the second half of her government's term with a throne speech on Monday. (Eduardo Lima/Canadian Press)

The Liberal government hopes to reset its agenda when the Ontario legislature resumes Monday, but the opposition parties will be on the attack over electricity rates, the privatization of Hydro One and the record $300-billion debt.

Premier Kathleen Wynne surprised the Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats last Thursday when she suddenly prorogued the legislature and said proceedings would resume Monday as scheduled, but with the added ceremony of a throne speech.

The government has already passed a bill to introduce a cap-and-trade system next January that will put a price on carbon, and another to allow the sale of a majority of Hydro One, the transmission utility. Other Liberal items that died with prorogation will be reintroduced, including a bill to change the province's political fundraising rules.

"Now at the midway point of our mandate, our focus is on implementing our plan so we can continue to deliver on our top priority: jobs and growth," said government house leader Yasir Naqvi.

"The speech from the throne is a normal tradition for a government and will allow us to re-focus our priorities and reset the legislative agenda."

Naqvi repeatedly said the Liberals would use Monday's speech to show how they will "build Ontario up," which was the title of the last throne speech, in 2014.

The government must also try again to reach a fee agreement with Ontario's doctors, who overwhelmingly rejected a tentative deal in August even though they've been without a contract for more than two years.

PCs return one seat stronger

The Tories return with wind in their sails after taking the Scarborough-Rouge River riding from the Liberals in a Sept. 1 byelection. Raymond Cho, a longtime Toronto city councillor, will be sworn in Monday and take his seat in the legislature for the first time.

But the party is still dealing with fallout from a controversial letter handed out during the campaign that said PC Leader Patrick Brown would scrap recent changes to the sex education curriculum if the Tories win the 2018 election.

Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown, left, with newly elected Scarborough-Rouge River MPP Raymond Cho. The party is still dealing with the fallout from a controversial letter handed out during the campaign — which Brown later disavowed — that said the PCs would scrap recent changes to the sex education curriculum (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Brown eventually apologized and disavowed the letter, calling it a mistake by the local campaign, but he's refused to comment since The Canadian Press reported that it was his chief of staff, Nicolas Pappalardo, who distributed the letter.

PC finance critic Vic Fedeli said the Tories can overcome any controversy around the letter, which critics said showed Brown was willing to muddy the waters on his position on sex ed to win the byelection.

"I think the win superseded all of the path to get there," Fedeli said. "It's a bit much for the Liberals to now say they learned people are upset about rising electricity bills and offer vague suggestions that there may be some kind of relief for consumers."

The Tories said Liberal policies are forcing hospitals to close beds and layoff staff, and warned the cost of servicing the debt will mean less money for government services.

"They can reset all they want, but what won't go away is the $308-billion debt, on its way to $350 billion according to the financial accountability officer," said Fedeli.

"The auditor general warned that if you don't get spending under control you're going to crowd out the services that families need, and that's exactly what's happening."

NDP focusing on economic opportunity

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said more and more people can't afford their hydro bills — she would eliminate the HST from electricity — and echoed the Tories call for an immediate halt to the sale of any more Hydro One shares.

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath says the government needs to address hydro rates and infrastructure development in the new session. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Finance Minister Charles Sousa said electricity rates increased because Ontario stopped burning coal to generate power and because the Liberals invested so heavily in the transmission grid after it had been neglected for years.

"We understand that we need to mitigate the cost for everyday Ontarians so they can have greater affordability," Sousa said Friday.

The New Democrats want to see government actions that helps make life more affordable for families.

"We have hospitals and schools that are crumbling, we have an electricity system that is costing people far more than they can afford, and in fact, is damaging economic opportunity, and we have a situation where kids are worried about their future because young people can't find a decent job," said Horwath.

"This reset better be about taking real action on behalf of the people of Ontario."