Having more Ontarians hit the books trumps balancing the books, says Premier Dalton McGuinty.

Despite a record $24.7-billion budget deficit, McGuinty yesterday heralded new spending to boost higher learning by promising 20,000 more people will be enrolled in colleges, universities and apprenticeship programs this September. “We don’t want to compromise our future by moving to balance the budget too quickly,” the premier said after the Liberals unveiled their agenda for governing through to the October 2011 election.

However, the 20,000 spaces would only address half the demand for places in colleges and universities, said Shelley Melanson, Ontario chair of the Canadian Federation of Students.

Opposition parties derided the throne speech as meaningless rhetoric to Ontarians still struggling with their family finances and bracing for the 13 per cent HST that hits July 1.

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak said the speech failed to lay down “a path out of recession” and included just 24 words on the province’s “crippling” financial situation.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said it was “lofty talk and a spiffy new package … but little action.”