Ontario gov't reaches out to opposition, backs spending restraint

TORONTO Tue Feb 19, 2013 4:09pm EST

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TORONTO Feb 19 (Reuters) - Ontario's Liberal government with its newly minted female premier pledged on Tuesday to work with its opposition parties to bring its spending under control.

Ontario, Canada's richest province, kicked off its new legislative session with a traditional speech from the throne that outlined the priorities of Premier Kathleen Wynne's government that could soon face a vote of confidence.

"For the benefit of the entire province, your government intends to work with opposition parties, in a spirit of renewed cooperation, to get the people's business done," said lieutenant-governor David Onley in a ceremonial speech.

"It does not believe that we are irreparably divided."

Wynn became the first female premier and first openly gay leader of a Canadian province in January, replacing Dalton McGuinty who stepped down amid controversy over costly cancellations of two natural gas power plants and battles to freeze teacher wages.

Canada's four most powerful provinces are led by women. British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec have female premiers, while women are also at the helm in Newfoundland and Labrador and in the thinly populated Arctic territory of Nunavut.

In the speech, the government reiterated its pledge to restrain spending and eliminate the deficit by 2017-2018.

"And after that, it will restrict overall spending increases to one per cent below GDP growth until the province's debt-to-GDP ratio returns to the pre-recession level of 27 per cent," Onley said.

Ontario will continue to promote renewable energy and work to end coal-fired energy generation in the province.

The center-left Liberals have been in power for nine years in Ontario, Canada's most populous province and home to most of Canada's banks and a large part of its manufacturing sector. But the party lost seats in the 2011 provincial election and needs support from at least one other party to stay in power.

The left-leaning New Democrats are the natural ally for Wynne, who has a reputation for seeking compromise and is viewed as being to the left of other Ontario Liberals.

The Liberals are facing a C$12 billion ($12 billion) budget deficit. They have vowed to curb growth in spending, as modest economic growth hurts revenues, and say it will take five more years to balance the budget.

Ontario accounts for roughly 40 percent of Canadian gross domestic product and is among the largest sub-national borrowers in the world, issuing bonds worth nearly C$35 billion in 2012.

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