Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell delivered the province’s Speech from the Throne to kick off Premier Doug Ford’s second majority mandate. As with his first term, Premier Ford called legislators back early for a late summer session expected to last no more than five weeks. Their first legislative priority will be to pass the provincial budget first introduced in April, which was tabled but never passed as the Tories opted to use the fiscal document as their campaign platform. The electorate responded to the multi-themed budget Ontario’s Plan to Build by returning Ford’s party to power with a larger majority against a scattered opposition.
The new government faces many challenges: an uncertain economy with soaring inflation, rising energy prices and interest rates, a labour shortage, an overpriced housing market at risk of sudden decline, and a healthcare system stretched to its limits after two years of a pandemic. Hospital emergency rooms are temporarily closing due to staffing pressures. In the months to come, Ford’s cabinet will face increasing calls to reverse Bill 124’s wage-increase caps for public sector workers including nurses, while his Minister of Education heads into negotiations with the teachers’ unions.
Since their appointments in July, new cabinet ministers have been taking in foundational briefings on their portfolios, and chiefs of staff have been filling their offices with political staffers. Stakeholders can expect to begin scheduling their introductory meetings with ministers and staff to share their views and top concerns for this upcoming session of the legislature. The first clues to the government’s priorities were revealed in today’s Speech from the Throne.
Speech from the Throne
The Speech from the Throne serves as a roadmap for what the Ford Government hopes to accomplish during its second mandate. From the opening lines of the speech, it is clear the government is acutely aware that it is embarking on this new mandate amidst a backdrop of uncertainty for which there is “no historical precedent.” The speech references new variants of COVID-19, historic levels of inflation, global supply chain disruption, Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Ontario’s generational labour shortage, and unprecedented government spending during the height of the pandemic as contributing factors to the highly uncertain political and economic climate that Ontario now faces.
Despite the uncertainty ahead, the speech positions Ontario’s newly re-elected government as prepared to “Get it Done,” pointing to Ontario’s Plan to Build, the re-introduced 2022-23 Budget, as the best plan to navigate these compounding issues and set Ontario up for success.
The Throne Speech echoes many of the campaign’s core narratives on affordability, highlighting the soaring cost of living, the stretched budgets of Ontario families, and how even small pleasures such as enjoying a meal out now seem out of reach for many. There is great emphasis placed on the uncertainty of the economy and inflation, and this government’s plan to mitigate its impact with long term plans for competitive tax rates, investments in workplace training, fewer regulations, and strategic investments in technology and infrastructure.
There are several references to marquee commitments from Budget 2022-23 to keep Ontario’s economy strong, such as the realization of the critical minerals strategy, building the road to the Ring of Fire, solidifying Ontario as a leader in electric vehicle production, and expanding transit and transportation infrastructure by building Highway 413, the Bradford Bypass, and the Ontario Line subway.
The Throne Speech also highlighted the current strain on the health care system, with a direct nod to the Canada Health Transfer and a reiterated call on the federal government to increase its share of provincial health care spending to 35 per cent. This is sure to be a sustained focus of this government – and of provincial governments across the country – going forward, particularly as public and media criticism of the strained health care system continues to mount. While the government is pointing to longer-term education, health human resources and health infrastructure investments as key to increasing the capacity of the health care system, the speech also indicated plans to work with health system partners to identify “urgent, actionable solutions” to ease immediate pressures.
Ford also reiterated through the speech his commitment to build 1.5 million homes over the next ten years. Grouped with this commitment was planned changes to municipalities to allow for additional housing to be built, including the “strong mayor” powers in Toronto and Ottawa.
Reintroduction of Budget
Following the Speech from the Throne, Minister of Finance Peter Bethlenfalvy reintroduced the government’s pre-election budget, Ontario’s Plan to Build. The first iteration of this budget, introduced in late April, formed the basis of the Ontario PCs’ platform during the campaign for this June’s provincial election.
As expected, today’s reintroduced budget is largely the same as its predecessor, with a couple notable exceptions:
- A commitment to increase the rates for income support by five per cent for families and persons under the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), beginning in September 2022. In addition to this year’s increase, the government is committing to introducing legislation to increase ODSP rates annually, tied to inflation. These additions reflect commitments made by Premier Ford on the campaign trail.
- An additional $225 million over two years to provide direct payments to parents, to help fill gaps in students’ learning after two years of pandemic-related disruptions, as part of Ontario’s recently-announced Plan to Catch Up. Details on how families can access this support will be shared later in the year.
H+K’s insights on Ontario’s Plan to Build can be read here.
In response to today’s Speech from the Throne and Budget being tabled, interim leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party, Peter Tabuns stated: “More than 60 per cent of Ontarians didn’t support Ford’s budget the first time around. Re-tabling the same budget — ignoring the health care crisis and inflation — is ignoring what people want and need. The Conservative choices in this budget will cost us all deeply. We will pay too high a price — with unnecessary suffering, with our household budgets, and with our families’ futures.” Furthermore, the Ontario New Democratic Party also introduced their new critic portfolios in anticipation of the legislative session resuming.
Additionally, John Fraser, Interim Leader of the Ontario Liberal Party and MPP for Ottawa South, issued the following statement: “It has been two months since the election, and this is all that the government has to offer – nothing new on healthcare, nothing new on affordability, and nothing new on the environment.” Preceding today’s Speech from the Throne, the Ontario Liberal Party also announced their new critic roles.
Our Ontario Public Affairs team will have more insights to share on what this means for your business. There will be key opportunities to engage with government, as the Ford government embarks on its second mandate.
Authored by members of H+K’s Public Affairs + Advocacy team including James Lin, Shanice Scott, Melissa Pasi, Sarah Dickson and Isha Chaudhuri.