On the morning of October 4th, 2021, the Ontario government opened the second session of the 42nd Parliament with a new Speech from the Throne. Today’s speech, expected to be the Ford Government’s last before next year’s provincial election, sets the stage with priorities that the government will be looking to further as their first mandate draws to a close.
The main priorities addressed in today’s Speech from the Throne included COVID-19, the growing need for more robust health and long-term care systems, and economic recovery.
Each of these priority areas is broken down in detail below:
The Ford Government used today’s throne speech to speak about the success of Ontario’s vaccine rollout and reopening approach. Praising Ontario’s “world-leading” vaccine uptake, the speech emphasized that the province’s growing vaccination rates are moving Ontario into “a new phase of the pandemic.” The speech also referenced the government’s proof of vaccination requirements, reiterating the difficulty of the decision and the intention to lift the measure once it is safe to do so.
While today’s speech acknowledged the challenges that COVID-19 has brought Ontarians over the last 18 months, it offered a forward-looking tone, reflecting on the strides Ontario has made thus far and encouraging us to see that “we are now able to enjoy the things each of us have missed so dearly.” This shift in tone is indicative of a government whose priority has shifted from responding to the many crises caused by the pandemic to recovering and rebuilding as we begin to consider life post-pandemic.
As the government looks ahead, it is working with the Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, to monitor COVID-19 data with a view to an eventual easing of restrictions. While today’s speech foreshadowed a possible rise in COVID-19 case rates, as indoor gatherings increase, the Ford Government was clear: its ultimate goals are avoiding future lockdowns and minimizing disruptions to businesses and families.
Rebuilding Ontario’s Health System
The government’s remarks acknowledged that under-funding across successive governments contributed to a stretched hospital system and “unimaginable horrors” in long-term care.
The government argued its pandemic response is strengthening the system and its investments in hospital capacity were touted – adding thousands of beds, resulting in ICU capacity rates that are now among the best in Canada. Specific hospital investments were highlighted, including in the key electoral battlegrounds of Vaughan and Peel Region.
The speech showed progress against promises on long-term care stretching back to the 2018 election around new and renewed long-term care beds; it also built on more recent commitments, stemming in part from the pandemic, to provide an average of four hours of direct care per resident, per day in long-term care. To do this, a $5 billion commitment over four years to hire 27,000 new staff was made. In the interim, the government anticipates adding over 16,000 new PSWs across sectors, including long-term care, by next April.
In acknowledgment of systemic failures, the government has committed to opening legislation governing long-term care for the first time in more than a decade, promising more accountability, enforcement, and transparency; “bad actors” will no longer get away with sub-standard care.
Appropriate staffing will be the linchpin of health care ambitions: a system already stretched to its limits before the pandemic has encountered increasing challenges recruiting and retaining workers in recent months. This is acknowledged in the government’s recognition of the need for more supports for mental health care in the wake of COVID-19, with a focus on front-line health care workers. Specific commitments in this area are not yet described.
Finally, Ontario has joined other provinces in calling on Ottawa to increase its share of health care funding to 35 per cent – up from about 22 per cent – and pledged to work collaboratively with the re-elected Trudeau government.
Economic recovery was a central theme with the government stating that after 18 months of shutdowns and unpredictability, Ontario’s businesses require stability and certainty.
While spending reached all-time highs during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ford Government stressed fiscal recovery will be achieved through economic growth rather than spending cuts or tax hikes. Premier Ford first indicated this plan in an op-ed published in the Toronto Sun over the weekend.
To accomplish this, Ontario will invest in infrastructure, building roads and highways as well as expanding transit across the province. These investments will also create conditions for long-term economic growth, making Ontario an attractive place to work and do business.
The speech’s language around COVID-19 was notably inclusive – emphasizing all Ontarians’ contributions and making it real, through stories and examples, the sacrifices people have made, as well as the hope we can share. Avoiding sole credit is in line with the Premier’s populist brand; it also offers a unified and hopeful tone from a government that has faced skepticism for its handling of COVID-19. It is also worth noting that the government re-emphasized throughout this speech its commitment to working collaboratively with other orders of government and Indigenous communities.
References to being guided by science and evidence are also meant to strengthen the government’s decision-making narrative. Despite criticism the Ford Government has weathered in recent months, Ontario is currently faring well compared to provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan – a comparison implicit in the speech’s emphasis on Ontario’s relatively cautious reopening.
When it comes to health care, the speech spends more time describing what the government has done than what it will do. Understandably, the focus remains on increasing capacity in hospital and long-term care sectors with significant investments in both infrastructure and human resources. The latter may prove difficult as nurses and PSWs can’t be trained overnight, and the challenges front-line workers face make it even harder to recruit and retain them.
The coming months will reveal more about the government’s plans to fulfill its ambitious commitments. Most notably, the Fall Economic Statement, which is likely to be released in early November, will outline more of the government’s priorities for the remaining months of its mandate.
- In response to the speech, Ontario’s New Democratic Party leader Andrea Horwath issued a statement saying: “Today’s Speech from the Throne is disappointing for everyday families and working folks in Ontario. By announcing nothing new whatsoever to help patients, students, workers, or small business, Doug Ford made it clear again: he’s not here for you and he still doesn’t want to spend the money on you.”
- Shortly after the speech, Ontario Liberal Party leader Steven Del Duca tweeted: “We heard nothing but empty rhetoric from Doug Ford today. No mention of education, nothing on $10/day childcare which voters just overwhelmingly supported, and nothing about paid sick leave. Ontario Liberals will keep fighting for the hardworking families of our province.”
- “Doug Ford mailed it in with an uninspiring throne speech that sets no vision or path forward for Ontario,” says Mike Schreiner, leader of the Green Party of Ontario.
Authored by: Matt Boudreau, Stephanie Dunlop, James Lin, Sarah Dickson, Isha Chaudhuri from H+K’s Toronto Public Affairs team.