The Ontario Legislature Returns

The Top Line

The Ontario Legislature resumes sitting today with the new session scheduled to run through until June.

It promises to be a busy time. Expect this session to be dominated by the growing demands in both health care and housing – focal points of the Government in recent weeks. Also on the agenda will be the continuing outreach and initiatives for the expansion and growth of the Electric Vehicle (EV) market.

The Government is struggling to keep pace with the cascade of demands, many heightened by the fallout of the pandemic. The strain on the health care system has been enormous over the last 3 years and all Governments are playing the catchup game. Ontario, with almost half of its entire budget devoted to health care is fighting shortages and shortcomings in almost all areas of care. Hospital beds and hallway medicine continue to be an issue along with a shortage of front-line health care providers.

In recent days, Ontario and all the Provinces have accepted the Federal Governments restructured blanket health care proposal that provides almost $200 billion dollars over 10 years, despite the fact there are only some $46 billion of new money.

Each Province must now negotiate its own specific needs with the Trudeau Government in the weeks ahead before a final deal is done and the provinces know exactly what they will be receiving. Look for the Ontario deal to build on earlier provincial announcements of expanded private sector applications. The Government had previously announced plans to use private facilities and providers to help ease the demand but stresses you will still pay with your OHIP card. The Opposition is not likely to back down from this anytime soon.

On housing, Ontario has a shortage of available and affordable housing especially in the GTA. Recent announcements to free up land designated as part of the Greenbelt has the Opposition parties crying foul. Premier Ford and his Government have been accused of tipping developers ahead of the announcement – an accusation that they strongly deny.  But the fact is, land is limited and to meet the demand, building will have to take place where land is available.

What We Can Expect in the Legislature

When the Legislative Assembly adjourned in December, the Government had very little business on their legislative docket. Of Government Bills introduced since the 2022 Election, only one, Bill 46, Less Red Tape, Stronger Ontario Act, 2023, remained awaiting next legislative steps. This Bill will likely be reported from Committee in short order and considered at Third Reading debate.

Lead Up to Budget 2023

In last week’s third quarter economic update, Finance Minister Bethlenfalvy indicated an increase in revenues that has resulted in a decreased deficit for 2022/23, as originally estimated in last year’s Budget. The Government will be keeping a close eye on the numbers as they work to balance the books and close out all the extra pandemic funding programs. This may well be in contrast to the Federal Government who appear less inclined to tackle the deficit at this time.

The highlight of this Legislative session will be the presentation of Budget 2023 by Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy, to be done before the end of March. Responding to the growing challenges within the province’s health care system will likely be the dominate feature in this Budget, followed closely by building conditions for expanded, affordable housing across the province.

The Government is aware of a looming recession, and while being mindful of the pending Federal Budget, the province will need to lay the foundation for ensuring that Ontario’s economy remains steady. The ripples established by the pandemic have ensured uncertainty in many sectors. Minister Bethlenfalvy will need to consider how he can address those issues while maintaining consumer confidence.

The New Players

The Ford Government has a very large majority as it heads into year 2 of its mandate. The Premier and his Cabinet are experienced and well versed on public policy and will no doubt be looking to make some moves by implementing their agenda more aggressively in the early days of the new session.

The Official Opposition NDP Party has a new Leader with Marit Stiles winning the uncontested Leadership race of her Party. While generally seen as an effective parliamentarian prior to her Leadership win, it remains to be seen how she will perform now that she is in charge. Last week, she convened her Caucus for the first time as Leader of the Opposition to discuss the NDP’s priorities for the upcoming legislative session. These include vital investments in public health care, stronger protections for Ontario’s farmland and ensuring a plan for truly affordable housing. However, given that this is a majority government, her powers are limited. That being said, she will have ample opportunity to establish herself as a prominent figure in Ontario politics. Her challenge will be to position herself as the true alternative to Premier Ford before the Liberals have an opportunity to pick a new Leader expected sometime in the next 12 months.

The Liberal Party, who are still not recognized as a Party in the Legislature, face a huge rebuilding task. They have a convention in March that will determine the rules and style of any future Leadership contests. What they decide and when they decide to move ahead will likely have a big impact on who runs and how aggressive the campaign will be. In the meantime, look for Interim Leader John Fraser to do his best to have any impact, given his limited resources and opportunities. The party will also have to deal with the upcoming Hamilton by-election, scheduled for March, with a platform likely revolving around affordable housing, advocating for workers’ rights, protection of farmlands, and improving school safety and infrastructure.

Provincial By-Election

On February 15th, a writ was issued under Section 9.1 of the Election Act for a by-election in the electoral district of Hamilton Centre. This was caused by the resignation of NDP Leader Andrea Horwath last year and under the Election Act, elections must be called on a Wednesday and held the fifth Thursday after the date of the issue of the writ.

Voting day will be March 16, 2023.

A safe NDP seat, look for this to remain in the Official Opposition’s hands.

What This Means

Queen’s Park promises to be a very active place leading up to the summer of 2023.

The Government will be introducing measures to deal with health care that may very well see expanded services coming from the private sector. New housing initiatives will be introduced with the Opposition fighting to protect green space and affordability.

Ontario will also be keeping a close eye on the Federal Government’s agenda. Health care negotiations, a visit from US President Joe Biden, and a Budget in the face of strong inflationary pressures top the agenda. Queen’s Park is completely open to visitors again meaning the in-person appointments will continue. MPP’s will once again be available and stakeholders should be encouraged to seek out opportunities to advocate for their own causes. Advocacy Days have returned as well, all contributing to what should be a very busy term.

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