The dog days of winter were uncharacteristically eventful for the provincial government — and now with the Ontario Legislature back in session, expect even more attention to shine on Premier Doug Ford and his Cabinet. There are many topics for newly minted Opposition Leader Marit Stiles to focus on: the strain on Ontario’s healthcare system, the perpetual housing supply crunch, conduct by the Premier and ministers in recent months, and anticipation that the provincial (and global) economies may still hit a recession this year.
Eight months after Premier Ford and the Ontario PCs were reelected last June’s election, the honeymoon is over. Amplifying headlines from recent days, The Premier and government took questions from the opposition on the government’s recent reforms to Ontario’s healthcare system and the Greenbelt development plan.
So, what’s next for the government? Here is what you need to watch for ahead of this upcoming legislative session at Queen’s Park:
1. Healthcare reform
Eyes are on Premier Ford and Health Minister Sylvia Jones to ease pressures on Ontario’s healthcare system – a crisis that includes acute staffing shortages and growing pressure on emergency services and surgical wait lists. This issue is expected to dominate the upcoming legislative session.
Ahead of February’s healthcare funding discussions with Ottawa (accepted by Ontario) the government announced contentious plans for the province’s health system, namely by increasing the use of private surgical facilities for publicly-funded operations. The first order of business in this session will be legislative changes that enact health reform announcements made earlier this year.
Premier Ford has been unequivocal that these new reforms will always be “paid for with an OHIP card, not a credit card”. However, opposition MPPs have accused the government of ushering-in more private, for-profit, healthcare. The topic of private healthcare is frequently viewed as a third rail of Canadian politics, so expect Ford to remain consistently supportive of publically-funded healthcare in statements and shun notions of “privatization”.
For healthcare stakeholders, expect the PC government to quickly implement their new healthcare plan. Stakeholders in this area would be wise to engage with the government in short order, as the PCs aggressively pursue these reforms early in the coming months.
Housing is still top of mind for the Ontario government. Before the Legislature rose for the holidays, the legislature passed a housing bill that was intended to spur development. This would be achieved by opening up areas of protected Greenbelt land and granting new powers to the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa to pass housing-related bylaws with just one-third of council support. This housing push comes as the government attempts to get 1.5 million homes built in 10 years. Meanwhile, high inflation and interest rates have forced the province to revise projections for housing starts downward.
Expect to see the opposition parties take aim at the government with allegations that “friends” of the government will benefit disproportionately.
3. EVs and Critical Minerals
Last spring, electric vehicles (EVs) were making headlines in the province. As the auto industry shifts from internal combustion engines to EVs, Ontario’s government is likely to continue cutting cheques and posing for photos at manufacturing facilities around the province. Expect also to see announcements about the mining of raw materials required for EVs – the Premier’s pledge to make Ontario an ‘auto manufacturing powerhouse‘ will be driven by new mining projects in the Ring of Fire.
For EV stakeholders, Premier Ford has already stated that companies interested in extracting Ontario’s critical minerals to make EV batteries will also need to invest in R&D or manufacturing facilities in the province. Alongside EVs, Ford has also signalled his government’s support for “clean” steel. With provincial government interest in growing the mining and manufacturing sectors, industry will have opportunity to leverage government support.
The government is set to deliver the 2023-2024 budget by March 31st. As of February, the province is projecting a $6.5-billion deficit for the 2022-23 fiscal year.
Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy said the province can expect “more of the same” types of investments. We can assume the government will be looking at direct supports for families and businesses in light of a looming economic downturn, additional spending on building and improving Ontario’s infrastructure, and of course more dollars for healthcare.
5. New NDP Leader Marit Stiles
The opposition benches will look a bit different this session.
You may have heard that Ontario’s NDP elected a new leader – MPP Marit Stiles, who has represented the Toronto riding of Davenport since 2018. Stiles was the only person to run for the leadership of the official opposition. She previously served as the party’s education critic and will rise for the first time as NDP leader in the legislature this week. Expect to see her questioning Premier Ford and the government on healthcare, education and housing issues.
The Ontario Liberal Party’s leadership race has taken an interesting turn, with some party stalwarts trying to court current Green Party leader Mike Schreiner into the race. Schreiner has since put those rumours to rest, citing his intention to stay “green for life”.
And we can expect the Liberals to release the rules and the race to formally begin in the months following its early-March AGM.
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