Speech from the throne makes good on tuition freeze promise
By Laura Katsirdakis
Dalton McGuinty's newly formed Ontario government delivered its throne speech yesterday and a brief reference to post-secondary education assured the public the Liberals would keep their promise to freeze tuition.
The government promised it would be honest enough to tell its constituents about challenges it was facing, citing a $5.6 billion deficit many times throughout the speech, each time reminding the public the deficit was inherited from the previous Progressive Conservative government.
The tone was set when Lt. Gov. James K. Bartleman - who delivered the speech - said the deficit will be tackled with the goal of improving public services for all while not providing tax cuts for the few.
Several Tory initiatives were overturned, including the price freeze on electricity and public school teacher testing. The speech pledged to treat educators with respect and restore stability and peace to the public school system.
In the area of public education, there were promises to cancel private school tax-credits, set up a province wide anti-bullying hot line, establish the premier's awards for teaching excellence and develop a francophone education strategy.
The speech strongly distanced the McGuinty government from two-tier health care. The creation of two new publicly funded hospitals in Brampton and Ottawa was also announced.
The goal to work with other provinces to create a national health council was also set forward. "However, money alone will not fix health care," Bartleman said, promising to develop family health teams to ensure people receive health care closer to home.
The government promised to make cigarettes more expensive and have public places and workplaces smoke free within three years.
Other promises included the first raise in the minimum wage in eight years, an end to the 60-hour work week, talks with other provinces to lower inter-provincial trade barriers, protection of fresh water resources and a deliberate effort to pay attention to the issues regarding Northern Ontario.
In the area of post-secondary education, the speech promised the development of a long term plan to ensure quality and accessibility, as well as a two-year tuition freeze.
"We are happy to see they're committing to the freeze as they promised in their election platform," said Dave Ford, VP-education for Western's University Students' Council.
"We are very excited that the government has promised a fully funded tuition freeze," said Joel Duff, Ontario chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students, adding he attended the speech in Ottawa and met with Mary Ann Chambers, the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, as well as some top Liberal researchers and political strategists.
"We will double our efforts to really work constructively to create the political appetite and political will to implement a meaningful tuition fee reduction at the end of the two year [tuition freeze], and obtain substantial reinvestment in operating funding for [post-secondary institutions]," Duff said. "Students working together won this victory."