The Ford government delivered the Speech from the Throne, which officially opened the second session of the 42nd Parliament. As always, the Speech from the Throne is an opportunity for the government to lay out its unfiltered vision for the upcoming Parliament. For Premier Ford and his government, this speech is particularly important with an election less than a year away and with high vaccination rates transitioning Ontario to focus on recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic instead of pandemic management.
The speech was separated into three main parts:
- A reminder of the work done during the pandemic,
- A call for patience and caution as the economy reopens, and
- An appreciation of the future challenges to come.
On the first theme, the speech thanked those Ontarians who have already been vaccinated, reminded voters of the increases to healthcare capacity including commitments to new hospitals in Vaughan and Brampton, promised to hire 16,200 more personal support workers by April 2022, and introduce new legislation to improve care in Ontario’s long-term care settings.
On recovery, the speech emphasized Ontario’s cautious re-opening plan as a safe and reliable way to get back to normal, suggesting that Ontario is already well on its way there with children back in classrooms and many back at work. The government was clear that it wants to avoid another lockdown at all costs and reiterated that vaccine passports, though necessary, are temporary measures.
When it comes to the future challenges faced by Ontario, the speech did not shy away from highlighting Ontario’s sizeable deficit, promising to tackle the economic challenge with increased growth instead of spending cuts or tax hikes. At the same time the speech reiterated Ontario’s call for the federal government to increase the Canada Health Transfer from approximately 22% of Ontario’s health expenditures to 35%.
Three Key Takeaways:
- With the federal election behind us, the Speech from the Throne is the unofficial start of the Ontario election campaign set for June 2022. The government’s messaging in the speech should be expected to continue throughout important events like the Fall Economic Statement and the Budget. Spending what is necessary, re-opening in a cautious manner, and reinforcing Ontario’s health care system are some of those themes likely to continue.
- Interestingly, the speech also pointed out that too many Ontarians work in precarious situations with wages that have not kept up with their needs. That verbiage could signal coming tax cuts promised originally in the 2018 election, government forced wage hikes, or increases to tax credits like the Low-Income Families Tax Credit that help low-income workers increase their take home pay. It could also pay homage to the soon to be released findings of Ontario’s Workforce Recovery Advisory Committee which is expected this fall.
- Normally, a Speech from the Throne lays out in detail the government’s upcoming legislative agenda. With the exception of a promise to introduce legislation to improve accountability in long-term care, this speech did not do that. Part of the reason for this omission is certainly the ever-evolving pandemic. However, this absence also signals that the government is still debating internally where it wants to take Ontario in its final session of parliament. This creates both opportunities to rapidly respond to the concerns of Ontarians but also risks that legislation either may not be ready in time or cannot be properly crafted to meet tight parliamentary deadlines.
All that said, the Speech from the Throne is an important signal of where the Ford government is headed in its final year before the election. Though many specific questions are left unanswered, the broad strokes of the government’s electoral defense have been painted. Now, it is up to the government to execute that vision as they make the case to voters that they deserve another mandate.