Today, the Ontario Legislature resumes after a 144 day break, the longest in over 20 years. The Ford Government chose to recess until after the Federal Election, held last week. This will be a short six-week session for the Legislature before the planned Christmas break starting on December 12.
The Government is expected to focus initially on the legislative requirements of a number of priority commitments, in addition to several hot-button issues.
After reaching a new contract for school support workers this summer, the Government still faces a labour challenge with high school teachers, which will likely be followed by new contract demands from elementary teachers. The publicity war has already started and last week the Government appeared to roll back an earlier commitment by lowering the suggested class size to 25 from their planned 28. The unions continue to argue this is still an increase from the current average of 22.5 students per class. This issue will dominate the House, and will be a focus for the opposition NDP.
Expect Federal-Provincial relations to remain rocky at best. Before the dust even settled on the Federal Election, Ontario stated that it will continue to challenge the federal Liberals’ carbon tax and indicated an intent to carry the fight to the Supreme Court of Canada if necessary. Premier Ford and his Government seem committed to a theme of affordability and portraying the federal carbon tax as both ineffective and detrimental to families and businesses.
In recent days, Premier Ford has reached out to his fellow Premiers with a call for unity. Last week’s Federal Election has divided the country along both political and geographical boundaries. With no representation federally in either Alberta or Saskatchewan, the Prime Minister must find an acceptable way to include both provinces in the decision-making process of the country. Premier Ford’s offer of reconciliation and unity may have some merit as it appears he has good relations among his mostly conservative Premiers.
Premier Ford also will need to focus on a number of expensive and high profile Toronto issues. He and Mayor Tory appear to be working better together if the recent decision to allow the city to maintain control of the subway system is any indication. Last week’s agreement between the Province and the City to move forward with the so-called Ontario subway line was a huge advance. Unlike the federal Tories, the Ford provincial government holds critically important seats in Toronto and its inner suburbs. Finally getting subway lines built – something the Liberals and NDP have both failed to get done in recent years – is good politics and a key plank in the Ford platform.
On November 6, the Ford Government presents the Fall Economic Statement. This is an update from the new Minister of Finance, The Honourable Rod Phillips, on the state of the economy and provincial finances. Further, it will be an opportunity to set the stage for the 2020 Budget. The Government will likely use this time to re-emphasize the importance of deficit control – and possible cuts – for a government with one of the most indebted positions in North America. The Premier and his Finance Minister both appear to remain committed to balancing the provincial budget by 2023.
Overall, we expect the provincial government’s rhetoric to soften as it seeks to avoid unnecessary conflict as it pushes forward with its agenda. Premier Ford started setting the new, conciliatory tone last week in a series of wide-ranging interviews following the Federal Election.
In Opposition, Andrea Horwath and the NDP have been relatively quiet over the past several months, though they can be expected to start challenging the Government much more aggressively on issues from transit to education and legal aid.
The Liberals have been reduced to only five members in the Legislature and we expect most of the Party’s attention will be focused on their leadership race. Two Ottawa-area seats were vacated by Liberal MPPs; the Premier will have until February to call by-elections.
The Legislature is scheduled to sit until its break on December 12th, then return on February 18, 2020. With the Ford Government’s need to show it is moving its aggressive agenda, we would not be surprised if the Legislature returns two to three weeks earlier than planned, in late January.
Impact on Advocacy
Clients should prepare for a fast-paced and partisan session at Queen’s Park. Off the heels of the Federal Election the Opposition will look to juxtapose Premier Ford against progressive initiatives coming from Ottawa. However, expect the Government to keep its focus on its agenda, wanting to pass a number of bills before the House breaks for the holidays. Clients can expect the Government to use its majority to move legislation quickly through the Legislature, meaning the time for response or engagement in the Legislature will be brief.
A number of ongoing consultations will continue through the various Ministries, many of which began over the summer break. Finally, the Government will soon launch their own consultations for the 2020 Budget as well as activate the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs to hold public consultations. Its going to be a busy session with many opportunities to engage, but it will require quick and decisive action to impact the Government’s agenda.