June 13, 2014 2:25 pm

New mandate, big headaches: Some of the challenges facing Premier Wynne

TORONTO – The Ontario Liberals won their fourth straight mandate Thursday night.

And while many delirious Liberals likely spent the night celebrating, they’ll be back to work by July 2 when Wynne reintroduces her election-triggering budget.

She’ll have her work cut out for her.

Here’s a very short list of the challenges that might make Wynne and her MPPs wish they’d opted for skydiving careers instead.

Transit

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Wynne once promised an “adult conversation” on transit funding. It never happened. All three parties promised fancy new transit with zero new taxes on the average Ontarian.

Now that she’s in power with a majority, she may have the cojones to put in a road toll or two to back the $29-billion decade-long transit and infrastructure plan she’s promised – to be funded, she’s said, through debt, the feds and existing funds that are supposed to be made up by hiking taxes on the rich.

She’ll also have to contend with previously made promises that are still up for discussion – notably the Scarborough subway. Olivia Chow, one of the frontrunners to replace Rob Ford as mayor of Toronto, has promised to cancel the Scaborough subway if she’s elected, and replace it with the light rail line the province originally agreed to.

And she’ll have to decide what role Metrolinx, the arms-length expert body that keeps getting overruled by politicians, plays in all this.

But something’s got to be built: Right now the province that loses up to $11 billion a year thanks to gridlock caused by inadequate transit and crumbling infrastructure.

Health Care

Ontarians are old, and getting older. Government estimates find the number of people over the age of 65 will double from about two million (or 14.6 per cent of the population) in 2012 to roughly 4.2 million in 2036.

And a 2010 report from Cancer Care Ontario says the aging population is one of the main contributors to increased cancer rates – people are living long enough to die of cancer.

A huge proportion of the province’s ballooning health-care bill, which takes up roughly 41 per cent of the province’s funds, is spent on palliative costs. Calls are multiplying for better policy on managing end-of-life care.

At the same time, a growing body of evidence shows that if you really want a healthier population and a cheaper health-care bill, you need to invest in preventing illness to begin with. That means communities designed to reduce obesity, targeting poorer people more at risk of everything from diabetes to cancer to heart disease and improving health care education for kids.

Wynne’s also promised to expand the province’s mental health care system. A worthy goal, if her government has the will (and the cash).

The Federal Government

Wynne said early in the election she isn’t afraid of a fight with the feds. That’s a good thing, because she’s sort of set herself up for one.

Ontario, still getting used to being a “have-not province,” wants more transfer funds. It’s also peeved at getting less money for immigrant support as more new Canadians head to western Canada (although Ontario still gets the plurality of immigrants).

Wynne came out swinging against Harper, spending the first few days of the campaign loudly criticizing the Harper government while touting an Ontario pension plan she says wouldn’t be necessary if the feds expanded CPP like she asked. And Finance Minister Charles Sousa called the reduction of transfer payments to Ontario “a complete assault on the province.

But these two levels of government need to learn to work together. Otherwise, how awkward would that make first ministers’ meetings?

Unemployment

Easier said than done: Cutting taxes doesn’t necessarily create jobs; neither do corporate grants, no matter how targeted. And as recent Statscan numbers show, the issue isn’t with the number of jobs but with their quality: Part-time gigs are replacing full-time ones. The pay’s lower, the uncertainty’s greater, there are no benefits. That new precarity of work has real impacts on communities, health and the economy. Tackling that will be beyond any election slogan.

Wynne’s vowed to keep giving corporations cash even though there’s no indication that creates jobs in the long run. She’s promised to help people with disabilities find work, which would be great if it worked and didn’t force people into a workforce that makes them sicker. But if she’s worried about Ontarians’ financial stability she’ll also have to figure out how to deal with precarious employment that’s become the new labour market normal.

Rob Ford

Sure, he was in rehab for the duration of the provincial campaign. But Ford’s brushes with the law, his unsavoury friendships and his all-too-well-documented episodes of bigoted drunkenness will haunt whoever is elected premier – more so if Ford is re-elected Oct. 27.

Wynne avoided any interaction with Ford ever since his crack cocaine admission last November. He apparently claims he tried to call her from rehab to say congrats; she didn’t take the call. Will she continue that silent treatment next fall if he wins the election?

Will she be able to push past the Ford noise to get things done in Toronto?

“Premier X, enough about health care. What do you think of Rob Ford’s return to city hall?”

The Pan-Am Games

Scandal-sparking teaUnion Station behind schedule and over budget, ongoing road closures, the extension of the Yonge-University-Spadina line, the Union-Pearson express, $239 million bill for security, and $478,000 in severance pay for the ousted Pan Am Games CEO are among the headaches associated with just getting ready for the 2015 Pan Am Games.

Then there’s the more obvious question: As the Toronto region agitates for a second hockey team, or an NFL team, and some masochists advocate another Olympic bid, does anyone actually care about the Pan-Am games?

The curse of Premiers Past

Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath tried to tie Wynne’s time in government to the gas plants scandal – and well, any of the McGuinty governments many scandals.

But Ontario voters didn’t seem to care, electing Wynne to lead a majority government on Thursday. Now the question is, will the spectre of the McGuinty government continue to haunt Wynne or has his scandalous reign at Queen’s Park finally been exorcised?

So, good luck with all that.

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