March 19, 2018 – With newly elected leader Doug Ford at the helm of the Progressive Conservative Party, and less than 80 days until the writ drops, the Liberals are clearly drawing a line in the sand with today’s Speech from the Throne. Rather than retrenching in the face of attacks on their fiscal management, Premier Kathleen Wynne and her government are doubling down on spending commitments they believe will support the needs of Ontarians (and, they hope, be supported by them).
Though shorter than most and lacking in specifics, as Throne Speeches are wont to be, it was clearly intended to seize the media attention back after almost two months of focus on the Tory race, and set the stage for the detailed spending announcements to come.
Finance Minister Charles Sousa telegraphed the Liberals’ approach to the upcoming Budget and campaign platform when he announced earlier this month that the government would be tabling a deficit Budget to allow for spending on priorities such as healthcare, education and social services.
“Care” was the word of the day as Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell delivered Premier Kathleen Wynne’s speech this afternoon, reinforcing that the Liberals will plant their flag firmly on their strongest territory – education and healthcare. The Speech aimed to paint as stark a contrast as possible to the PCs’ tax-cutting, small government agenda, and to eat into the NDP’s progressive voter base by unifying the center-left against Ford. However, the NDP’s platform, released on the weekend, promised universal dental care and pharmacare, likely assuming – correctly – that the Liberals wouldn’t go quite as far.
With further investments to help families cope with the cost of living, the Liberals are appealing strongly to Toronto voters they may be in danger of losing, and the GTA, where the battleground lines will be most sharply drawn. They are betting strongly that the public appetite is for a government that cares, even if it comes at the cost of a deficit, and that an improvement in their bottom line will deter them from the possibility of Premier Doug Ford.
Key Investment Areas
Some of the key investment areas outlined were as follows:
- The Throne Speech promised more spending to reduce hospital wait times, increase home care and support personal support workers, expand mental health care, and extend pharmacare. This includes “historic” investments in mental health and addictions services, and financial relief for caregivers.
- The Liberals may not quite match the NDP’s promise of full pharmacare, but will be taking steps to include “other parts of the population” beyond the recent OHIP+ coverage for all children and youth – perhaps a signal they may be going after the seniors’ vote in the Budget.
- The Speech alluded to broadening the new OSAP to provide more students with free tuition, and investing in training more apprentices for the existing workforce and emerging new fields.
- The cost of child care will be addressed in the upcoming Budget – “How?” is the big question. Whether the Liberals will aim to put money in parents’ pockets, or reduce the cost of delivery will be unveiled next week.
- The Throne Speech echoed Sousa’s speech, indicating that the Liberals plan to run a “modest” deficit (less than one per cent of GDP, which could mean up to $8 billion/year), and provide a path back to balance.
Stay tuned for the 2018 Budget next week on Wednesday, March 28th for more analysis from Counsel.