Queen’s Park – Monday, October 4, 2021: With only 240 days remaining until the province’s next scheduled election, Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor delivered a Speech from the Throne this morning to open the Fall Session of Ontario’s 42nd Parliament. Today’s address signals the unofficial start of Premier Ford’s final push towards Ontario’s June 2, 2022 election.
Delivering a brisk address, Her Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell introduced the government’s vision for the critical months ahead. With more of a retrospective focus, today’s address stated clearly that Ontarians should not expect tax hikes or spending cuts as part of the province’s economic recovery plan.
Today’s Speech from the Throne reflected a government increasingly confident in the effectiveness of its pandemic management. Following widespread criticism for contradictory policies earlier this year, Premier Ford’s government pivoted to a more cautious and controlled re-opening plan. Ontario’s COVID-19 case numbers remain lower than anticipated in a fourth wave, due largely to a successful vaccination awareness campaign targeted at high-risk communities, an extended mask mandate and continued difficult public health decisions implemented by the Ford government.
Although several of these measures, including slower re-openings, maintaining indoor mask mandates, and temporary vaccine certificate requirements were criticized by various elements, the contrast in the public health situation between Ontario and other provinces was clearly spotlighted in today’s remarks. Ontario is currently experiencing one of the lowest active rates of COVID-19 cases across Canada, while hospital and intensive care admissions remain managed and steady. 86 per cent of Ontarians have received at least one vaccine shot, and 81 per cent are fully vaccinated.
Most notable in today’s Speech was a commitment by the government to introduce legislation this fall to increase accountability, transparency and enforcement in the long-term care system. This marks an initial critical step in the implementation of the extensive recommendations made earlier this year by Ontario’s Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission.
Furthermore, the Speech particularly highlighted the government’s previously-unveiled investments to strengthen and build the capacity of the health care system, including:
- Investments in hospital capacity, both to add 3,100 new hospital beds, increase Ontario’s ICU rate to one of the country’s highest, as well as the construction or redevelopment of new hospitals in Vaughan, Brampton and Windsor-Essex;
- $2.86 billion to create 30,000 new long-term care beds over the next decade, with 20,000 new and 15,000 upgraded beds already in development;
- Spending $4.6 billion over 5 years to onboard 27,000 new long-term care staff, including nurses and PSWs, and increase per-resident care to 4 hours per day.
The re-election of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party of Canada in the recent federal election also ensures that the provincial government will have an important foil as it moves ahead with tackling further investments in health care, while addressing the fiscal challenges incurred from the pandemic. Today’s Speech specifically highlighted Ontario’s call – alongside all other provinces and territories – that the Canadian government increase the federal component of the Canada Health Transfer to 35 per cent.
While much of the Speech from the Throne emphasized the government’s pandemic management, it also provided the broad strokes of the province’s planned approach to driving a successful economic recovery. The address recognized the key challenges confronting the province today, namely:
- The pressure of precarious work and wages that have not kept up with rising costs;
- Mental health issues exacerbated by pandemic measures;
- The stress on frontline health care workers;
- Fiscal challenges created by unprecedented spending.
Premier Ford has overseen historic pandemic spending, including a projected record deficit of $32.4 billion in Ontario’s 2021–2022 fiscal year, as indicated from the government’s August quarter financial update.
Today’s Speech from the Throne made clear that Ontario will attempt to stimulate new economic measures through growth, and the three words that matter most to the Ontario PC Party base: no new taxes. At the same time, the Speech reiterated a message that has been consistent throughout much of the Ford government’s mandate: significant spending cuts are also off the table.
In terms of how economic growth would be achieved, the Speech reiterated that the government’s priorities will include building infrastructure, transit and an economy conducive to doing business. Observers will be eagerly watching the upcoming Fall Economic Statement and 2022 Ontario Budget for clearer signals of what lies ahead.
The opposition was quick to attack today’s Speech for its brevity and lack of new details. Having previously criticized the Ford government for the Financial Accountability Office’s reports of underspending relative to forecasted spending in the spring budget, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath attacked the lack of specific new commitments in the speech. She attempted to contrast this with her party’s previously announced priorities to expand vaccination mandates, hire even more health care workers, create small business grants as well as create safety zones for those targeted by anti-vaccination protests.
Ontario Liberal Leader Stephen Del Duca struck a similar tone of disappointment, while contrasting the lack of specifics in the Speech with his party’s commitments to implement $10/day child care, tighten vaccine mandates, and create 10 paid sick days for Ontario workers.
The next step in Premier Ford’s plan will be shared in the Ontario PC Government’s 2021 Ontario Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review, and will be released no later than November 15.
Counsel Public Affairs will keep you posted on breaking political news from across the province and at Queen’s Park during the Fall session of the Ontario Legislature.