Work was on the mind of Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty in London yesterday as he stressed the importance of a skilled workforce and the big job of reworking the provincial government. In the latter task, McGuinty is challenging Ontarians to work with him.
Ironically, his messages were delivered after some hard work of his own getting to London in a January snowstorm. He couldn't fly into London and had to be driven from Toronto before heading off to Windsor.
At a training centre for skilled workers, McGuinty said he'd like Ontario to have a "highly educated, highly skilled, highly motivated workforce." He said his government is anxious to invest in people.
"We can make Ontario the envy of the world," he said at the training centre operated by the Labourers International Union and Fanshawe College on Firestone Boulevard.
McGuinty chatted with students who were learning how to read blueprints, finish cement and lay bricks and concrete blocks as he toured the facility.
He said he is trying to reshape government and he won't do so by slashing taxes and cutting services.
"We're working hard to rework government," he told an audience of about 80. "We want to change the way government works."
He said the previous government diluted services and still ran up a huge deficit. McGuinty said his approach will be different.
"Instead of thinning the soup yet again, we want to rewrite the menu," he said.
To do so, McGuinty said his government will be taking the unprecedented step of consulting the 63,000-strong civil service and the general public in town hall and consultation sessions before his first budget later this year.
The premier said some "elitist and cynical" observers have suggested Ontarians don't have enough knowledge of government to make suggestions for improvement. But he said his government wants to know what services are important to people.
"We need your advice, your insight and your guidance," he told the students and their teachers.
"The best leadership is leadership that is informed, leadership that listens . . . I want to hear from you."
At a meeting with the editorial board of The London Free Press, McGuinty stressed he plans to listen to ordinary citizens in coming weeks.
"This is serious, this is earnest, this is genuine," he said of the consultation process that is being developed. It will include "citizen dialogues" with selected Ontarians at eight locations around the province. He said while the locations haven't been set yet, he conceded it "certainly would" make sense to have one in London.
Citizens will be approached to see if they can spare eight hours of their time to help fill out workbooks and take part in discussions aimed at determining core services and ones which could be eliminated.
He reiterated his vow he won't raise taxes as his government struggles to get Ontario's $5.6-billion deficit under control.
McGuinty said he expects the consultation process to take a couple of months. And he didn't seem to care if that delays introduction of his first budget.
"We want to get it right," he said.