Following the June election, the Ontario Legislature officially returned yesterday to complete their first order of business, re-electing Ted Arnott as Speaker. With the Speaker elected, Elizabeth Dowdeswell - Lieutenant Governor of Ontario - was able to deliver the Speech from the Throne this afternoon, signifying the official start of the 43rd provincial parliament. The Speech provides a glimpse of the Ford government’s priorities for this legislative session.
Speech From the Throne
The themes in this afternoon’s Speech From the Throne were foreshadowed in the PC’s pre-election budget, “Ontario’s Plan to Build” which ultimately served as the government’s successful campaign platform. Titled “Together, Let’s Build Ontario”, today’s Speech reiterates how building highways, homes, and other major infrastructure projects in Ontario will improve gridlock, allow home ownership to become more attainable, and create the transit-oriented communities needed to support economic growth across the province. In other words, the Speech reiterated the commitments made during the unveiling of the Spring budget.
Some may recall the populist tone of the 2018 Speech, “A Government for the People.” By contrast, today’s Speech had a more sombre and pragmatic tone, focused on unity and partnership as a way to combat the growing threat of economic uncertainty amid pressures such as the COVID-19 pandemic, rising inflation, the war in Ukraine and ongoing supply chain pressures. Acknowledging that unprecedented spending throughout the pandemic inevitably has led to new fiscal challenges in Ontario, the Speech highlights how prudent economic management is needed as the province is likely to face a near-term economic slowdown. Like all Speeches from the Throne, today’s Speech was more directional, and short on specific policy reforms.
The longest and more focused section of today’s Speech spoke to Ontario’s overburdened healthcare system. An issue that took the spotlight during the pandemic and continues to dominate the headlines, the Speech recognizes that more can be done to improve the healthcare system in Ontario. Noting the measures the government has already set in place, including investments made into home and community care, a new grant focused on attracting health professionals to rural and remote communities and confirming that Ontario is on track to build 30,000 new long-term care beds, the Speech discusses the challenges that remain prevalent within the healthcare system, and calls on the federal government to increase its share of healthcare funding from 22 per cent to 35 per cent through the Canada Health Transfer.
There is also recognition that the Ontario government is working together with healthcare partners to identify urgent and actionable solutions to combat or ease immediate pressures. Strong dialogue and collaboration with healthcare partners is also noted as a critical mechanism to avoid the possibility of a winter lockdown.
Other issues highlighted in the Speech include the following:
Promoting electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing and investment – There will be continued focus on improving Ontario’s competitive advantage to make it a location of choice so that EVs are “built in Ontario from start to finish by Ontario workers.”
Realizing the opportunity of the Ring of Fire – Government will work collaboratively with First Nations partners to build two sections of the road to the Ring of Fire – the “Corridor of Prosperity” – connecting mines and minerals in the north to manufacturing in the south.
Encouraging more Ontarians to build a career in the skilled trades – The government highlighted its investment of more than $1 billion into the Skilled Trades Strategy to reduce the harmful stigma affiliated with the sector. The Speech also re-iterated the government’s call for the federal government to double the number of skilled workers that are allowed to immigrate to Ontario each year.
Supporting clean energy – The Speech emphasized government investment into green steel in partnership with the federal government, Algoma Steel and ArcelorMittal, which is a critical selling feature for investment into Ontario.
Building infrastructure to improve connectivity – Through projects like Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass, as well as historic investments in public transit, highways and other projects throughout the province.
Maintaining an attractive business environment – The Speech committed to keeping costs down and taxes low to foster an environment that attracts global capital and make targeted investments that will strengthen Ontario’s competitive investment.
Investing in education – The Speech referred to the inclusion of tutoring supports to help fill gaps in learning from the past COVID-disrupted school years.
Building 1.5 million homes over the next 10 years – The Speech reiterated the government’s commitment to this ambitious goal, including new tools to help municipalities build more homes faster. In addition, the government will look at introducing enhanced authorities for the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa. As indicated in the Speech, a strong-mayor systems will allow municipal leaders to work more effectively with the province to reduce timelines for development, standardize processes and address local barriers to increasing the supply of housing. For urban populations, these new powers will be especially relevant as the province works with its municipal partners to expand the footprint of transit-oriented communities so more people can live near public transit.
The government will also explore partnering with municipalities to leverage surplus provincial lands and add new incentives that will be geared toward building attainable housing that lowers costs for potential buyers and make home ownership more accessible.
Making life more affordable for individuals and families – Achieve this through actions such as raising the minimum wage, successful negotiation and partnership with the federal government to launch the affordable 10 dollar a day childcare program, and allocated funding to support children catch-up after two years of remote school during the pandemic.
Finally, the Speech turned to the growing generational labour shortage in Ontario. As government is focused on fiscal recovery, which ultimately will be driven by long-term economic growth, historic investments into the province are seen as critical to create jobs, accelerate economic growth and support new emerging sectors that will aid in Ontario’s transition to net-zero. Despite the difficult global environment, today’s Speech ended on an inspiring note, recalling the growth, dynamism and confidence associated with Expo 67, and encouraged us to get building.
The 2022-2023 Budget
Following the Speech from the Throne, the Honourable Peter Bethlenfalvy, Ontario’s Minister of Finance, re-introduced Ontario’s 2022-2023 Budget with two significant additions: 1) increasing Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) payments by five per cent annually and 2) investing $225 million to directly support parents and fill in learning gaps for students as they prepare for the upcoming school year. The Budget introduced today also featured an updated fiscal outlook, projecting an $18.8 billion deficit (a $1.1 billion improvement from that forecast in April). Otherwise, the 2022-2023 Budget is a reprise of the document presented on April 28. Sussex’s detailed analysis of the Budget document from April can be found here.
Barring any unforeseen events or amendments, the re-introduced Budget bill is positioned to pass in the next few weeks during this short summer sitting.
The legislature will sit for a total of approximately five weeks to debate and pass the Budget bill, with a short break next week as many MPPs and ministers head to Ottawa for the annual Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) conference. As a result, the legislature will rise in mid-September. The International Plowing Match & Rural Expo 2022 is taking place on September 20-24 in Kemptville, which will also draw participation from many MPPs across all parties. We expect the legislature to likely return after the municipal elections, which are set to take place on October 24, 2022.
While the main item on the legislative agenda is to debate and pass the provincial budget, there will also be some other pieces of legislation introduced in the coming days to address other pressing matters. The most anticipated piece of legislation – establishing a “strong Mayor” system in Toronto and Ottawa – will be tabled tomorrow. The legislation is being billed as providing municipalities “…with additional tools to build more homes faster.” Some of the policy changes could allow the province to bypass city council on certain decisions to instead deal directly with the Mayor.
What This Means For You
Today’s Speech from the Throne provided the Ford government with a chance to reset its policy priorities following the June 2 election. As Ontario emerges from the pandemic and now faces the threat of a global recession, it is clear that economic recovery remains a top priority.
What was also made clear from today’s Speech is that the government knows it cannot address this critical issue alone; it will need to hear from stakeholders from across the province, representing all aspects of the economy. It will be key for stakeholders to consider the government’s priorities – and how they can contribute to achieving these priorities – as they plan their government relations strategy.
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