Thursday, June 8th marked the last day of the first session of the 43rd Ontario Parliament. Premier Doug Ford had a strong start to the session with his new supermajority, promising investments in health care, growth in the automotive industry, the development of new transit infrastructure, job creation, confronting the housing crisis and reducing the cost of living. As the first year of this Government comes to an end, spectators and businesses with a vested interest in Ontario politics can now look back on the triumphs and tribulations of this first year, and forward to what the Ford government’s next three years may have in store.
This first year of the Ford Government’s second mandate reflects an ongoing shift towards the fiscal centre. Whereas Premier Ford circa 2018 might have appealed to a more right-wing base, his ideological moderation since then has allowed him to court the interest of those who see themselves as neither being on the left nor the right, as well as new bases of support among organized labour in southwestern Ontario.
On the final day of the legislative session before the summer break, Premier Doug Ford took the opportunity to highlight his government’s accomplishments as they marked five years in power. The Premier touted that “there’s 670,000 more people working today than there was five years ago … 670,000 people are putting food on their table, paying a mortgage or buying a home, because we created the climate and the conditions.” This comes on top of several other victories, including the deal made with Volkswagen, alongside the support of the federal government, to advance Ontario’s Electric Vehicle sector as well as potentially serve as a massive boon for job creation in Ontario, thus enriching the economy for the rest of Ford’s mandate.
The province also received increased investment in hospital repairs and upgrades by $50 billion and invested $81 billion in health care more broadly—following the relatively successful end to the lobbying campaign Ford and his fellow Premiers launched, calling for a raise in federal spending on health transfers. The implications of the CHT deal will be borne out shortly.
The Premier and Prime Minister Trudeau have become unlikely allies and collaborators, after having established a relatively unified approach to the COVID-19 pandemic. Both Trudeau and Ford share an electoral base in Ontario, and both are also seen as more moderate when collaborating with the other. The intersecting federal and provincial spheres of jurisdiction allow for both parties to benefit from each other’s presence as well. Ford can blame grievances on Trudeau’s progressive policies and Trudeau can abdicate responsibility for lapses in public services by claiming it is out of his jurisdiction.
So long as Trudeau is in power, Doug Ford will continue to benefit from a contrast with the federal government, while also reaping the ability to burnish his moderate bonafides by collaborating with that very same federal government.
The Ford Government ran into some trouble early on in their renewed mandate with its ill-fated Bill 28, the “Keeping Students in Class Act”. As some may recall, Bill 28 used the Charter’s notwithstanding clause to override the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)’s right to strike and practice collective bargaining. Among those who sounded the alarm over this, on the premise that this bill was an aberration against free and democratic societal norms, was the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) as well as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. It was not long after the bill’s hasty introduction that, due to overwhelming outcry and the prospect of cross-sector labour mobilization, the government repealed the Act and began negotiating a four-year contract.
Criticism of the Ford government did not stop here. The quality of health care delivery in Ontario has been an ongoing issue for the government. Post-pandemic, the health care system was, and continues to be, strained. A wave of retirees among the health workforce, the increasingly aging population, the restrictive nature of medical school admissions and a lack of funding has resulted in delayed surgeries, appointments and cancer screenings, and exacerbated the chronic inability for many Ontarians to find a family doctor. In response to these difficulties, the Ford government announced that Ontario would begin increasing private delivery of health care, thus sparking debate on the merits of increasing privatization to decrease wait times. Further reorganizing of the health care sector could be likely in the following three years.
In addition to this, the Greenbelt has been another source of controversy for Premier Ford. Environmental advocates and Opposition members alleged that Ford went back on his word to not touch the Greenbelt, as the government sought to cut 7,400 acres of protected land for the use of developers. Although the government would frame this differently, having swapped new greenbelt land for previous greenbelt land, older growth forests have a very different sort of ecological value than new growth forests. The opposing goals of environmental stewardship and development will continue to stalk the PC’s development goals.
As this session ends and another is soon to begin in September, we can examine the seeds sown by the PCs which will guide their legislative priorities over the next three years. The recently expanded strong mayors’ powers will enable mayors to increase development in their cities, as is part of a wider push to increase housing supply across the province. Ford’s government raised purpose-built rental starts up 143% across the province, and through this and continued efforts we can expect more homes built faster through the rest of Ford’s mandate.
Economic development will also be a key driver of legislation for the remaining three years of Ford’s mandate. As has been demonstrated through investment in Volkswagen, despite the ensuing drama with Stellantis, Ontario is pushing for a renewed automotive manufacturing presence in the province through electric vehicles. In making these investments, The Ford Government is seeking to create new jobs for Ontarians. In part, this will be enabled by the province’s plan to unlock the Ring of Fire.
The government plans to do this through a 5-year strategy for the region. According to Ontario’s Critical Minerals Strategy 2022-2027, “experts forecast labour market pressures in the mining sector and national estimates suggest that by 2025 the mining industry will need to hire between 30,000 to 48,000 workers to fulfill the labour needs of the industry.” Should Doug Ford be successful in his plan to open up the Ring of Fire, not only will remote Indigenous economies likely benefit from increased regional economic prosperity, but geopolitical concerns surrounding the global reliance upon critical mineral exports from illiberal and undemocratic nations can be lessened.
Though we can expect that Doug Ford’s government will continue to draw out the ire of some, we will also likely see him continue on his current trajectory towards a more centrist stance. This is not to say that Ford has not benefited from demonizing the actions of Trudeau and the former Ontario Liberal Government – far from it. Rather Doug Ford has realized a crucial lesson which many others on the Canadian right would be wise to heed: you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
McMillan Vantage is here to help your organization navigate Queen’s Park. To find out more, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.