Troubled Ontario economy to dominate legislature this fall
The Canadian Press
Published Sunday, September 21, 2008 10:39AM EDT
TORONTO - It's the economy, stupid.
The catch phase that helped put Bill Clinton in the White House could easily be adopted by Ontario's political leaders. They all agree the fall session of the legislature, which starts Monday, will focus on the faltering economy in Canada's former 'economic engine.'
Premier Dalton McGuinty made a rare pre-session cabinet shuffle last week to highlight the Liberal government's plan to attract new businesses -- and jobs -- to Ontario, splitting the Economic Development Ministry in two and creating a new Ministry of International Trade and Investment.
"The Ministry of Economic Development and Trade has become so important to us, with such tremendous challenges and great opportunities confronting us, that I think we can do a better job... by better dividing the workload," he said.
"A global economy with tremendous opportunity makes it clear to me Ontario needs a ministry devoted exclusively to building up our international trade and investment."
Attracting foreign investment is a good idea, said Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Business at the University of Toronto, who added cutting business taxes in Ontario would be the best way to achieve that goal.
"What we need to do is make sure Ontario is a place where businesses have the strongest possible encouragement to invest, and that has a lot to do with our marginal effective tax rates on investment, which are among the highest in the world," said Martin.
"We have one of the dumbest tax structures on the face of the planet."
The opposition parties say a cabinet shuffle won't help anyone who has lost their job, and plan to go on the attack Monday against a government they claim has done next to nothing while over 200,000 manufacturing jobs have disappeared in Ontario.
"No one would disagree that we should be very focused on international trade," said Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory. "But what we need from this government is a plan of action, some tax relief."
The Liberals must be held to account for the manufacturing job losses on their watch, said NDP Leader Howard Hampton.
"It's become more and more apparent the McGuinty government has no plan other than to blame someone else, anyone else," he said.
The first piece of political drama that will unfold Monday will come as former Progressive Conservative veteran Bill Murdoch, who was kicked out of the caucus last week for saying Tory should look for another job, takes his seat as an Independent member of the legislature.
With Tory struggling to quell dissension in his own caucus as he searches for a seat in the legislature, and the New Democrats in a full-fledged leadership race to replace Hampton, McGuinty probably isn't shaking at the prospect of facing opposition attacks during the daily question period.
The Premier also knows any successful points the opposition scores would more than likely fall well below the public radar, especially in the middle of a federal election and a U.S. presidential race.
But the economy will continue to be a problem for McGuinty, warns Derek Holt, vice-president of Scotia Capital Economics.
"We see the Ontario economy as being flat this year, with a very high material risk of a technical recession, marked by two consecutive quarters of contraction in real GDP at a minimum," said Holt.
"Next year, the rebound is probably something just over one per cent, so not terribly optimistic in terms of going forward."
McGuinty admits the economic troubles could mean he will have to "delay or even defer" some government initiatives this fall -- including his election promise to tackle poverty -- and the government is not planning any significant new spending measures in the fall session.
The only pieces of legislation the Liberals are expected to introduce include a long-promised update of Ontario's antiquated Mining Act, measures to improve road safety, and a law to force companies to reduce toxic emissions.