Given that the usually predictable world of Ontario politics has been anything but since the night of January 24th, when Patrick Brown’s world came undone, it is now no surprise that all three major political parties have made surprise announcements, with little to no advanced notice, since the end of last week. To wit:
• The Liberal government announced on Thursday that the Legislature would be prorogued, and the government would read a Throne Speech today;
• Not to be outdone, the Doug Ford-led PCs announced that they would hold a rally tonight at the Toronto Congress Centre, close to the epicenter of Ford Nation in Etobicoke North;
• The NDP quickly announced that party leader Andrea Horwath would be making a major announcement at a downtown Toronto hotel on Saturday.
For the Wynne Liberals, using this bit of parliamentary procedure gives the government an opportunity to press the reset button, and get its priorities in the window. Given that all the focus and media attention has been on the PC party and its new leader lately, prorogation and a Throne Speech, without sacrificing any legislative sitting days, is not a bad tactic. As we saw today, Throne Speeches provide directional, high level signals about what is to come. Recall that the Ontario budget will be tabled on March 28th, and there will presumably be a Liberal election platform unveiled at some point as well.
Similarly, the NDP used their Saturday event to hint at what would come if that party were to form the government. Expanded pharmacare, dental coverage for all, and forgiving student loans by converting them to grants were all included, without too many specifics. The NDP used today to provide additional program and costing details.
Of interest, in his response to the Andrea Horwath media event on Saturday, PC leader Doug Ford made no mention of the NDP or its leader at all. Instead, Ford used the opportunity to continue his blistering attack on Kathleen Wynne. As he said when he appeared on our Ontario election show, Ford is laser focused on the Premier and her party. We find this to be an interesting strategic decision. Historically, the Ontario PC party has fared better when progressive, left-of-centre voters are split, however unevenly, between the Liberals and the NDP. The last few Ontario elections have seen that vote coalesce around the Liberals, as the party most likely to prevent a right-of-centre government from forming. Time will tell if the PCs a) stick to this strategy and b) whether or not it works.
There is an old adage in politics that if you are setting the agenda, and your opponents are responding to your agenda, you’re winning. The Throne Speech, by design, seeks to set out the government’s agenda. The NDP, who attach additional importance to putting their ideas out there first, then claim that the Liberals stole them, are once again playing that card. Recall last year’s announcements around pharmacare: the NDP was out there first with a universal plan for a smaller number of drugs to be covered; the Liberals in turn made it only for people under 25 years of age, but covering more drugs. In hindsight, whether anyone remembers this order of things is, at best, a question.
As for the Throne Speech itself, here are the highlights:
• Reducing wait times for health care by significantly increasing hospital operating budgets.
• Expanding home care to provide more services for seniors choosing to stay at home, and to provide financial relief for families who are caring for aging loved ones.
• Making historic investments in mental health and addictions services so people of all ages across the province can get the care they need.
• Ensuring more people without a drug and dental benefits plan will have access to more affordable prescription drugs and dental care.
• Providing more college and university students with free tuition through the new OSAP.
• Making investments to train more apprentices for the workforce, including in emerging fields.
• Focusing on regions that are struggling to achieve economic growth by investing in workers and businesses.
• Continuing to make record-breaking investments across Ontario in public infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, roads, bridges and transit systems.
Over the next few days, and the remaining weeks left in the legislative session including in the provincial budget, we can expect a roll out of the details behind these priorities by the Liberals. Elections are all about choices, compare and contrast, and the governing party will be challenging their opponents to declare which of these priorities they oppose.
As our own Joe Ragusa detailed in his appearance on CP24 today, all of the political parties conduct extensive polling, not only to find their support levels and where it is, but also to determine what the pressing concerns for the electorate are and what will move voting support toward them and away from others. With most of the publicly published polls reporting that issues like health care and affordability (cost of living) being two of the highest top of mind issues today, the Liberal Throne Speech priorities and the NDP announcements do not come as total surprises. As for the PC party, their policy platform is a work in progress.
Leader Doug Ford has said that he is not a fan of the 80 page, 100+ promises People’s Guarantee that his party unveiled last November. Instead, we can expect a slimmed down, 5-point platform to be unveiled soon. We will watch for that and advise our clients accordingly. In the interim, we can expect that the new PC leader will continue to hammer away at Premier Wynne, counting on her low approval ratings to carry him and his party until he has more refined policies to talk about.
Finally, a word about the writ period. We want you to know that May 9th, the day that many media outlets are saying the writ will be issued and the official campaign period begins, is in fact the last day that the writ can be issued. By Ontario law, the writ period must be between 28 and 35 days. Therefore, it is possible that the election can start anytime after May 2nd. All that is required is for Premier Wynne to pay a visit to the Lieutenant Governor.
This is relevant because the Elections Ontario rules regarding spending and reporting take effect that day. Of interest too is that there are limits on what third parties can spend in the six months prior to the writ period; that being $600,000 in total, leading up to the election. You will have noticed it has been eerily quiet on that front. The prevailing thinking is that those interests are keeping their powder dry until as close to the writ period as possible. Look for a barrage of third party advertising to commence in earnest around the beginning to middle of April.
As always, please feel free to contact your Sussex consultant with any questions.