Premier Doug Ford's government will table its 2022 budget on April 28, just days before calling the election, Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy announced Thursday.
The finance minister's announcement confirms what QP Briefing reported almost two-and-a-half weeks ago, on March 29.
Sources close to the Progressive Conservative government said it was planning to table its budget shortly before the election call and that the PCs didn't intend to pass the budget bill.
Those sources said this decision was politically driven. By planning not to pass legislation, the PCs could repurpose the budget as its campaign platform. There are a few political advantages, sources said, including enabling the PCs to pitch its platform as other parties do — as future promises designed to woo voters. It would also mean the PCs aren't beholden to following through with everything they include in their pre-election budget.
Also by introducing its budget so close to the election call, it will be fresh in voters' minds during the campaign.
The timing of the budget and its specifics are always closely guarded secrets by the government, which is why QP Briefing promised anonymity to sources who shared sensitive information.
On Wednesday, Bethlenfalvy gave a speech at an Empire Club of Canada event in Toronto.
The speech could have doubled as one he'll give on the campaign trail in a few weeks. In it, the finance minister laid out in broad strokes how the PCs plan to bring about "Ontario's renaissance." The next steps will be more clear in the forthcoming budget, Bethlenfalvy said.
"We will deliver an economic plan that invests responsibly, but we will also be ambitious," he promised.
Overall, the party plans on addressing three of Ontario's challenges, Bethlenfalvy said, which are: productivity, labour and investment.
The government's commitments to major transit projects, its moves to draw skilled workers, and its investments in the manufacturing supply chain are exemplary of this, the finance minister said.
The scheduled writ date, which starts an election, is on May 4. There will be a 28-day campaign period, as Ontario's Election Act requires. Voters are scheduled to go to the polls on June 2.
Following Easter, MPPs have the week off from the legislature. After that, there will be just seven sitting days left before the election. The Ford government used at least 12 sitting days to pass its 2019, 2020 and 2021 budgets, which each also took longer than a calendar month.
The fastest the Ford government has passed a bill without other parties' support was in four sitting days. In this instance, the PC government recalled the legislature for weekend sittings and shortened debate on Bill 307, which used the notwithstanding clause to controversially reinstate election advertising laws that an Ontario judge struck down.
The government laid the groundwork to follow through with this plan over several months.
It used legislation, Bill 84, this spring to delay its budget-tabling deadline one month until the end of April, even though Ford's government created the law requiring each year's budget to be introduced before the end of each fiscal year, which is March 31. There's no law in Ontario requiring a budget to be passed by a specific date.
One explanation given by multiple members of Ford's cabinet for why the government pushed back its own deadline was so its 2022 budget properly reflected an Ontario emerging from the pandemic.
"We want to make sure that we do present an accurate reflection of where we are at to the people of Ontario as we come out of COVID restrictions," Government House Leader Paul Calandra said in February.
As some critics predicted, this may end up meaning better economic forecasts. For example, a report published by the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario (FAO) on Tuesday projected Ontario could balance its budget next year if it weren't to add any new spending or make any new cuts — its most promising forecast for the government since the pandemic started.
The FAO reports to the Ontario legislature, which relies on it for independent analysis of the provincial economy and the government's finances.
The PCs' move is a rare one for a majority government, given the unusual circumstances that would have to take place for Bethlenfalvy's budget bill not to pass, if the government gave itself enough time to do so. The tactic also mirrors a political move of the last PC government to successfully win reelection. Former finance minister Ernie Eves released the 1999 budget on the eve of the election call that saw Mike Harris' PCs return to power.
The move isn't so rare for minority governments. In this scenario, the thinking goes: as the governing party with a minority of seats, if you're confident in what the outcome will be, why not make legislating easier by winning more power — a majority. Budget bills bring with them votes of confidence, which force an election call, when defeated. A minority government can effectively bait the opposition into forcing an election by forcing a confidence vote it knows other parties will vote against.
In 2014, the minority Liberal government — under Kathleen Wynne, who had taken over the premiership from Dalton McGuinty almost a year-and-a-half earlier — sent voters to the polls about a year-and-a-half early after the opposition PCs and NDP both stated they were unwilling to pass the budget.
Four years later, Wynne's majority Liberal government passed its 2018 budget bill on May 8. Wynne announced on the same day that the election writs would be issued the next day.
Ford's PCs came to power by winning the election a month later. The PC government proceeded to backtrack signature pieces of the Liberals' last budget, including expanding the government's coverage of most commonly used prescription drugs to everyone under 25, instead of just those without insurance.