Ontario’s Legislature has been abuzz this week, as MPPs headed back to the Pink Palace for the first time since the June election.
There has been an air of excitement in the building with new MPPs moving into their offices, and returning MPPs feeling the familiar back-to-school butterflies. But for many progressives, there has also been a heavy cloud of uncertainty, as we brace to see what comes next from this newly re-elected PC government.
At the end of week one, the legislature has moved through some key housekeeping items including the election of the speaker, a throne speech, and the tabling of a largely unchanged budget from the one that was presented just prior to the election.
With these early items checked off the legislative to-do list, the question on everyone’s mind seems to be: what can we expect to see from Doug Ford in the coming weeks and months of his second term?
There are a number of clues about what might be brewing when we dive into the throne speech and the budget.
The throne speech focused heavily on the need for a restrained fiscal policy, perhaps signalling further cuts to program spending in the near future. With collective bargaining about to get underway with Ontario’s teachers, and inflation rates continuing to rise, many sectors will be wondering what that restrained fiscal policy will mean for their program spending.
Also worth noting, is the significant focus on mining and auto manufacturing as the pathway for the province’s economic recovery. Specifically, the throne speech paints the Ring of Fire as the province’s golden goose, laying golden eggs of critical minerals that could be used to increase Ontario’s production of electric vehicles and the batteries that power them.
There are likely a few eyes rolling for anyone who remembers when the PCs cancelled Ontario’s electric vehicle rebate and the program that funded charging stations back in 2018. Both of which were funded through Ontario’s cap and trade program, which was dismantled by Ford in one of his first moves as premier.
The flip-flop on electric vehicles aside, when we look at some of the most pressing issues facing most Ontarians today — health care and inflation — both the budget and the throne speech lacked any clear strategy for how to address either.
The throne speech does pat the returning government on the back for its “historic investments” in health care while acknowledging that there is still more work to be done. But many in the sector are already critical of the self-congratulatory statement, with overall health-care investments over the past four years falling below the rate of inflation, and with health-care workers' wages restrained as a result of Bill 124.
Worse, neither the budget nor the throne speech offer any real plan to address the growing health-care staffing shortage, which has left many hospitals struggling to keep their doors open. According to the Ontario Nursing Association, more than 20 hospitals across the province have recently been forced to close intensive care units and emergency departments because of unsafe staffing levels. More worrying are the rumours of further privatization as a solution to the staffing crisis, a move that Health Minister Sylvia Jones won’t rule out.
And on the inflation front? Well, that’s completely unaddressed the budget that is almost identical budget to the one we saw tabled this spring. There are no adjustments to reflect a world where gas prices surged to over $2 a litre over the summer months or a provincial inflation rate that has risen 7.9 per cent over last year. There does not seem to be any plan or strategy to help Ontarians struggling to make ends meet as the cost of everything from gas to groceries goes up.
The best response the PCs have had to address Ontarian’s pocketbook pressures is a meagre five per cent increase in the monthly payments made to recipients of the Ontario Disability Support Program. The increase amounts to an extra $58 monthly for a total allowance of $1,227. In addition to falling short of inflation, it’s also a far cry from what the disability community has been calling for, which is to immediately double ODSP payments and tie future increases to inflation.
Notably, when asked during his announcement if he could live on the proposed $1,200 a month, Finance Minister Peter Bethlanfalvy refused to answer the question.
While we may have a few hints of some early priorities from this government, the priorities we don’t see on the top of their to-do list — a plan to staff our hospitals and take the pain out of inflation for everyday Ontarian families — are just as telling.
So what can we brace for in the coming months? More cuts, more fiscal restraint, and a lot less help for the people who need it.
Suze Morrison was the NDP MPP for Toronto Centre from 2018 to 2022.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by all iPolitics and QP Briefing columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of iPolitics and QP Briefing.