One week from today, the Ford government will table its fourth and final budget before the June 2nd provincial election. In fact, most observers expect the budget document itself to serve as the de facto election platform for the conservatives.
In recent weeks, the government has made numerous announcements. Some of these have been instant, such as the sticker rebates for vehicle licenses. Others, seen as good news for most, will follow the election if the government is re-elected.
In other words, if you want this, vote for us. If we win, you get this.
These promises have included; the redevelopment and building of new hospitals and long-term care facilities including expanded mental health infrastructure and additional spots in medical schools across the province; increased housing; post-secondary schools tuition freezes; a raise in minimum wage to $15.50; dropping tolls on provincial highways 412 and 418; reduction of the provincial gasoline and fuel taxes; grants to the auto industry for the electric vehicle development and expansion and a critical minerals strategy for northern Ontario. Included too is the bringing back of the Ontario Northlander train service to northern Ontario, expanded highway coverage with 413 and the Bradford bypass and expanded GO transit and subways in the GTA.
Quite a shopping list that the media have pegged at almost $11 billion dollars.
And while this seems to be a staggering amount, it is typical government behaviour prior to an election. Governments have a distinct advantage going into an election, because they have access to all the facts and figures of government. They can make the announcements now with timelines stretching well into the future in order to work within the financial framework they have chosen.
Opposition parties will do the same, but because they have less access to the numbers and because they simply receive less attention from the media, it largely goes unnoticed or has little impact.
In Ontario, there is only one other recognized party – the NDP. No one gives them a chance at forming government and maybe not even holding on to Official Opposition status.
The Liberals were virtually wiped out in 2018 and so will be looking for a big bounce back in 2022. While most believe they will at least win back official party status, there seems to be a consensus that they will have to wait another cycle before getting a chance at government.
As for the party leaders, the conservatives will be led by Premier Doug Ford. A rookie in 2018, he has 4 years of governing under his belt in the very difficult pandemic times. His personal numbers have generally held over time and he is seen to have done a decent job with the pandemic. He has also improved his public speaking and loves to campaign – retail politics is his thing.
Andrea Horwath will lead her party into its 4th election as Leader, offering much the same things as she has offered in the past – providing opportunities for people to build a good life; increased wages and benefits for the working classes; expanded health care and dental coverage including universal mental health coverage – all with very basic acknowledgement of costs. She repeatedly spends most of her time attacking new initiatives while providing little in the way of new policies
Steven Del Duca enters his first election campaign as Liberal Leader with a party that needs to come back, regain official party status in the Ontario Legislature and give voters a true alternative to the conservatives. They too are offering a number of new policies designed to win back the support of their traditional voters. Policies that include: fighting systemic racism in schools; banning handguns province-wide; creating new provincial parks; offering electric vehicle incentives and dealing with staffing issues in hospitals and long-term health care facilities. The Liberals have even floated the idea of a four-day work week and expanded sick leave – both vote-getters but very expensive with many unknown implications.
So, within the next 2 weeks, Ontario will officially be into the next general election to elect members to the 43rd Parliament of Ontario. Certain issues will rise to the top of the public agendas. The political leaders will work hard to define the issues and stay focused to get their message out with detailed announcements. Many announcements will be repeats of what is already in the public domain, but will generally receive more attention by the media during the 4-week election campaign.
Pressure will mount on the front runner, initially Doug Ford and the conservatives, not to stumble or make a mistake. Horwath will be trying to rise above the clutter to emphasize her agenda for the working class while Del Duca will need to get known and accepted.
While many may have a sense of what is a likely outcome, elections do matter and what we see on June 2nd may or may not be quite different from what we have today.