By: Amanda DeYoung and Brian Zeiler-Kligman
At 100 days away (as of Feb. 22), Ontario’s upcoming provincial election scheduled for June 2nd may seem distant to some. In other years, perhaps, it may well have been. But this provincial election, being Ontario’s first to take place in the wake of a pandemic, will be different.
The stakes for Premier Ford’s PCs and the other provincial parties and party leaders will be much higher than in previous years. Arguably, Ontario is facing a longer list of significant policy issues to be addressed in this election than at any other point in Ontario’s history.
Consider this selection of issues Ontarians can expect to appear in party platforms:
o Post-pandemic economic recovery (including what industries will drive the recovery and the government’s role);
o Addressing Ontario’s labour shortage;
o Supporting Ontario workers;
o Affordability issues, such as the cost of living and housing;
o Sustaining our environment;
o Building much needed infrastructure;
o Reviving the tourism industry; and
o Rebuilding the healthcare system and supporting long-term care.
This list clearly illustrates that the pandemic will greatly influence future policy. Canada’s largest province had to pivot alongside the rest of the country as rises in cases and new variants brought lockdowns and stricter health measures, and the pandemic created challenges for Ontario workers, students, and families that won’t be fixed overnight. For most sectors, government decisions will be key to a resilient recovery.
The final sitting of the Legislature in this government mandate starts today. There are eight weeks left when the Legislature will meet prior to the official election campaign. In that time, we can expect, at a minimum, a red tape reduction package, legislation on iGaming and housing affordability, and a Budget. There are also 28 active regulatory proposals currently on the province’s regulatory registry where the government is consulting with stakeholders to determine regulatory measures they will introduce.
There will clearly be much more government activity before the election campaign heats up. Not all public policy issues will be addressed pre-election, nor should we expect certain prominent issues – such as housing affordability – to be settled by government policy to come in the next few weeks.
Yet, despite this flurry of activity to come in the next weeks, some organizations may believe that they can pause their advocacy efforts and simply “pick up where they left off” post-election. Contrary to this belief, by not engaging with decision-makers and local candidates prior to the election your organization may miss a significant opportunity. Government officials and key candidates need to continue being briefed on these issues prior to June 2 if you want to spearhead change.
In addition to more traditional government relations outreach with government decision-makers, here are three further opportunities available to your organization for achieving your policy and regulatory objectives:
1. The civil service. There will be a shake-up at the political level on June 2nd in one form or another. The civil service’s role, which is to help develop and deliver policy and programs, ultimately remains the same. Being non-partisan, they remain in place regardless of an election outcome, all while having a very powerful influence on the political agenda.
Deputy Ministers and their respective teams will prepare to advise and support whoever their Minister will be. There is opportunity to engage with these officials as they prepare for their next Minister and to influence the direction of policy moving forward. Developing or maintaining a relationship with these officials leading up to the election should not be overlooked.
2. The party platforms. We anticipate election platforms will be released in the coming weeks. The fact of the matter is that there is still time (though, admittedly, not much) to influence what these platforms ultimately look like. If anything, the pandemic has taught us that these platforms may be subject to shift depending on the state of the pandemic as we move closer to June 2nd. With that in mind, organizations should continue to move forward and engage with party leaders to ensure their organization is heard.
3. Key Election Candidates. Understanding that elections can lead to minor or significant change, it is important to continue building a dialogue with local MPPs and other key candidates. Sussex can help with your organization’s strategy and work with you to identify who is most likely to play an important role moving forward post-election.
A government relations strategy that is only focused on the post-election period is not one that is optimized for success. The election may still be 100 days away, but the time will fly. The best time to position your organization for pre- and post-election success is now.