Analysis: Ontario Fall Economic Statement Offers Preview of June Election Themes

Ontario’s Finance Minister has released the Province’s Fall Economic Statement (“FES”), which provides an update on the Province’s program spending, as well as Ontario’s economic and fiscal projections for the near term. With less than eight months until the next provincial election (which is on June 2022), Finance Minister Bethlenfalvy’s mini-budget ultimately lays the foundation for the Ford government’s election strategy. 

The FES, and the Ford reelection strategy, is organized around three core policy themes:

“Protecting Our Progress”: Fundamentally, this is about the ongoing response to COVID and new investments in Ontario’s health care system. While the Ford government was viewed as ably handling the first two waves of COVID, the third wave had significant impacts on Ontario’s health care system and economy, and led to a precipitous drop in popular support for the Conservatives. Under the program of investments announced in today’s FES, the Ford government is making investments to shore up the staffing in the province’s hospitals and long-term care facilities with about $400 million to add 5,000 new and upskilled nurses and registered practical nurses, 8,000 personal support workers, and 225 nurse practitioners. The Province will also invest an additional $548.5 million over three years to expand home and community care, including inspections in the long-term care sector, mental health supports, and other areas. 
“Building Ontario”: The Ford government has laid out its plan to build Ontario’s future with shovels in the ground for highways, hospitals, housing and high-speed internet. This includes an ongoing investment of approximately $2.6 billion this fiscal year for more than 580 construction, expansion and rehabilitation projects on Ontario’s highway system. The province also remains committed to advancing the controversial Bradford Bypass and Highway 413, both of which are aimed at addressing the severe congestion along the Province’s 400-series highway system in the GTA.
The Ford government has committed $1 billion to support infrastructure development that will unlock the North to create jobs, expand mining and all-season roads, as well as other projects that will provide a path to prosperity for the remote First Nations in the Far North. 
Additional announcements and investments include:

  • establishing a Housing Affordability Taskforce – a key issue in virtually every market within the GTA, and large parts of the province; 
  • an additional $3.7 billion, beginning in 2024–25, to build an additional 10,000 net new long‑term care beds and upgrade 12,000 existing beds to modern design standards;
  • $30.2 billion over the next 10 years (previously announced) to build, expand and enhance hospitals.

“Working for Workers”: For weeks the Ford government has signaled a “renewed” approach to engaging with private sector labour unions, and Ontario ministers have made several “labour- friendly” announcements in recent weeks, including support for “Gig” workers, better regulation of temp agencies, raising the minimum wage, and plans to develop its first-ever Critical Minerals Strategy which would support Ontario’s mining and auto sector (EV minerals extraction). New measures announced in the Fall Economic Statement include:

  • creating a new province-wide, two-year $40 million Advanced Manufacturing and Innovation Competitiveness stream, which is part of the Regional Development Program;
  • investing an additional $90.3 million over three years starting in 2021–22 in the Skilled Trades Strategy. Key new initiatives include creating a skilled trades career fair as well as enhancing the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program and the Pre‑Apprenticeship Training Program;
  • extending the Ontario Jobs Training Tax Credit to 2022, which would provide an estimated $275 million in support to about 240,000 people, or $1,150, on average.

 Finally, the Ford government is introducing a very populist measure aimed at supporting Ontario’s impacted tourism and hospitality sector. The new temporary Ontario Staycation Tax Credit for 2022 would provide an estimated $270 million to support Ontario families to further discover the province (with a 20% tax credit on qualifying accommodations).

These three themes lay the foundation of the Ford platform strategy as they prepare for the June 2022 elections, and they are designed to capture some support from Labour from the NDP and Liberals; maintain support in the GTA (outside Toronto) which is very Tory blue; and make the Conservatives the party of choice (or at least more competitive) for Northerners.
For the NDP, Andrea Horwath faces her fourth election as Leader, and will be under pressure to maintain the significant gains that were made in the 2018 election (becoming the Official Opposition in the legislature). The Ford government’s efforts to build support from Labour may prove challenging for the NDP, as they have not always had reliable support from private sector unions. 

The Liberals under Leader Steven del Duca are actively recruiting star candidates, and have only one way to go – up – in the polls and in seats (as they currently have just seven MPPs in the legislature). Despite the challenges that COVID brought within days of becoming Liberal Leader, del Duca has been able to generate substantial media coverage in recent months and has set the political agenda for issues like vaccine passports, mandates. Although they too may be impacted by Premier Ford’s overtures to private sector labour unions. 

Although it’s still nearly six months away, today’s FES is a preview of the policies and platforms that will be decisive in next June’s election. 

For more information, please contact Chris Holzchrish@campbellstrategies.com and Paul Brownpaulb@campbellstrategies.com