Legislature recesses and marks start of election season

As political parties begin to formulate policy platforms, stakeholders must engage now to have their voices heard

With the Ontario election only a short year away, Kathleen Wynne concluded this session of the legislature with a long list of progressive achievements under her belt.

The Liberals put this session to good use, passing legislation and making investments that will strike a chord with constituencies whose votes the Liberals need to defeat an upstart PC Party riding high in the polls.

This includes raising the minimum wage, making prescription medication free for everyone 24 years of age and younger, launching the basic income pilot project, expanding rent control to support overburdened renters in hot housing markets, Ontario Municipal Board reform, free tuition for some college and university students, and creating 100,000 more childcare spaces. These measures are aimed squarely at the Liberal electoral coalition: vital swing voters like suburban women, new Canadians, and low-income voters. The budget also provided significant relief from high hydro rates, a sore spot for many Ontario households.

The party of the “activist centre” won’t stop there. The Premier knows she must mobilize her base with even more progressive measures to calm the electorate’s apparent mood for change. The Ontario legislature is due back on September 11th. Expect a host of major initiatives in the fall that will lay the groundwork for the upcoming election campaign. That will likely include the final budget of this government’s mandate, a document that will form the heart of the Liberal platform in 2018.

Make no mistake: election season has begun. The government is feeling the pressure. Patrick Brown’s Progressive Conservatives have performed well in polling – buoyed by five consecutive byelection victories – and raised $10 million more than the governing party, a rare achievement. Yet other polls have shown Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals closing the gap. The government’s balanced budget and relatively strong Ontario economy provides fiscal room to throw some goodies to its core supporters. And don’t count the NDP out: a victory for MPP Jagmeet Singh in the federal NDP leadership race could bring a welcome boost to Andrea Horwath and the Ontario NDP. The 2018 election will be a highly competitive race.

That reality spells opportunity for clients. Every party is currently engaged in its platform development process. Clients looking to see their priorities reflected in a future government would be wise to engage with all three parties over the coming months. Given how close the June 2018 provincial election will be, any of the three could form government.

The end of this session marks the start of the home sprint towards Election 2018 – a time of incredible opportunity for clients. Anyone who can demonstrate that important swing voters or core supporters will be motivated by certain policies could find their issue-of-choice front and centre in election platforms. It’s important to understand how key constituencies respond to key issues and initiatives and demonstrate for all three parties. Public opinion research and public outreach in the months leading to the election will be effective tools in informing the policy process. Now is the time to get on the agenda – when the parties are focused squarely on finding ways to win.

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Laura Greer, Vice-president
[Public Affairs, Health-care communications]