This afternoon, Ontario Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell delivered the Ontario government’s Speech from the Throne, an opportunity to lay out the government’s priorities for the coming legislative session, and, in this unique case, its election platform. The Speech was a result of last week’s surprise announcement that the government was proroguing the legislature. While no sitting days will be lost, this decision does mean that any pending bills will need to be reintroduced.
As expected, the Speech from the Throne did not deliver any details in the form of specific funding amounts, but it did make clear the focus areas that the Wynne Liberals will be basing their platform around in the upcoming election. The word ‘care’ was included more than 50 times and has replaced the Liberal government’s previous emphasis on ‘fairness,’ which propelled them through the past year and a half and found its way into new legislation focused on hydro, housing and more.
The major focus areas include increased investments in:
- A major focus will be an expansion of OHIP+ to include other parts of the population, as well as an expansion of affordable dental care benefits plans for those not currently covered.
- The government indicated it will “make significant investments in the operation of our hospitals” to “reduce the wait times people experience when they need care.”
- They also said there will be “major investments in home care, to provide more services for people aging at home and provide financial relief for families caring for aging loved ones.”
- Finally, the government said the next Budget will prioritize mental health and addictions care.
- The Speech suggested that the cost of child care “will be addressed in the Budget.”
- The government also indicated that another expansion of the popular upfront grant-based OSAP will result in ‘free tuition’ for more students.
The priorities highlighted in the Speech from the Throne suggest the Ontario Liberals will follow a fairly familiar playbook in the upcoming election. They will continue to expand popular, progressive programs that people have benefited from (OHIP+, free tuition), introduce new funding into areas that people have been demanding action on (day care, home care) and challenge the Progressive Conservatives to say which programs they would cut in order to reduce the budget and get closer to balance.
This strategy also seeks to crowd out the NDP on the left, particularly in an election where the influence of PC Leader Doug Ford may cause some voters to consider strategic voting.
The absence of access to affordable housing from the Speech is an interesting omission. It certainly does not mean the topic will not be addressed in the Budget, but for an item that is a massive indicator of poverty and affordability, the lack of mention was notable.
Finally, the government laid the foundation a couple weeks ago that in order to make important new investments, it would be running a deficit “no more than 1 percent of GDP.” While many have interpreted that as running an $8 billion deficit, the government itself has never said that, and when the deficit is announced as less than that amount, the government will be able to frame it as more fiscally prudent than many had expected.
The Speech from the Throne will be debated in the legislature over the next three days and the Budget will be revealed by the government on Wednesday, March 28.