We are just under two weeks removed from the provincial election that saw Premier Doug Ford and his Progressive Conservative (PC) government not only win re-election but strengthen their majority in the process. A lot has been said about the failure of opposing parties to mount a real fight during the election period against the incumbent government, but there are several other factors worth considering.
For one, Ontario saw its lowest voter turnout ever and Canada’s second-lowest voter turnout ever in a provincial election. People simply did not buy into the campaigns, whether due to voter fatigue having been through a federal election in late 2021, or pandemic fatigue having dealt with devastating impacts of COVID-19 while contending with rolling lockdowns, restrictions, and public health measures, all of which were under the purview of governments.
At the same time, it felt like the PCs ran a flawless campaign that felt somewhat under the radar. They were seemingly in control of the electorate from day one, and in some ways, this likely impacted decision-making among voters as public opinion polling consistently showed the PCs ahead, never dropping below the 35 per cent mark. For undecided voters or for those leaning towards supporting the opposing parties, seeing the election out of reach could have been a deterrent.
In any case, Ontarians, or at least the ones that got themselves to the polls and voted, seem content with affording the PC government a second chance at achieving what they set out to do in 2018. In many respects, COVID-19 derailed Premier Ford’s ambitious platform centred around the notion of populism and fiscal conservatism.
So, what exactly can Ontarians expect from his PC government over the next four years? Below are five key considerations.
Back to the basics
Arguably the most valuable asset that Premier Ford and his government have had over their first term, as well as during both election campaigns, is their populist brand. Since 2018, the PC government has found simple yet effective ways to save the average Ontarian money they were accustomed to spending, including their decision to scrap the license plate renewal fee, introduce the staycation tax credit to encourage travel across Ontario, and remove tolls on Highways 418 and 412. Fortunately for them, the financial impact of the pandemic has accentuated the need for these sorts of pocketbook policies as the province faces an affordability crisis. The Premier’s ability to address it head on could further strengthen his appeal.
Investing in savings
In 2018, Premier Ford was elected on the promise of “trimming the fat,” as in finding efficiencies by improving how the Ontario government is run, as well as how public services are delivered. The ultimate objective was to find cost savings that would have helped the province get back on track with reducing its annual deficit and eventually its debt. Though, this sort of revamp takes time and Ford’s approach did not pan out exactly as it was envisioned, eventually being derailed by the devastating impacts of COVID-19. This time around, the Premier is likely to take a more calculated approach that considers long-term investments to improve processes and service delivery as a mechanism to driving efficiency and eventual cost savings. Cutting by spending or investing in savings.
Open for business
From a longer-term perspective, the Ford government will need to continue positioning Ontario as an attractive destination for business and investment. Improving our competitiveness should enable the province’s economy to rebound post-pandemic, and it is likely going to be a central theme in all the Ontario government’s policies going forward.
Healthcare, healthcare, healthcare
If there is one thing that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light, it is our fragile healthcare system. Regardless of political stripe, Ontarians all collectively agree that significant investments are necessary from all levels of government to improve the state of our healthcare system. From long-term care to emergency care, there is an impending need that the Ford government will have to try and address over their second term. We can also expect to see Premier Ford join other Premiers in advocating for increased federal funding for provincial healthcare systems.
Appealing to the centre
At a high-level, it is likely that we will see the Ford government try and strike a perfect balance between being fiscally responsible and spending capital on infrastructure, healthcare, and social programs. While this may further alienate a small part of their historic party demographic, the PCs have an opportunity to widen their broader appeal among the people of Ontario, particularly in the wake of an election that saw both the NDP and Liberals lose their leaders. The PCs made inroads in this election in the Windsor area, Hamilton and Northern Ontario largely by appealing to working-class voters who traditionally vote NDP. To hold on to this new coalition of voters, we can expect to see Ford’s provincial government continue to focus on working-class policies and issues in the next four years.
The next couple of weeks
What can we expect over the next couple of weeks? With new faces and a new mandate, we can expect to see some fresh faces in the Premier’s Cabinet. Currently, MPPs are waiting to speak with Premier Ford and learn whether they will be in Cabinet, be a Parliamentary Assistant or remain in the backbenches. Once decisions are made the Premier will introduce his new Cabinet to Ontarians as the Lieutenant Governor swears in the Government of Ontario. Growing the PC seat count, Premier Ford has options to refresh his cabinet with new people who can add diverse lived, professional, and regional experience.
On the opposition benches, both parties will soon announce Interim Leaders. With open spots for the top job, Liberal and NDP MPPs are gauging support on the possibility of them launching a leadership campaign. At the same time, campaign and party stalwarts are beginning to discuss what went wrong and who is to blame for their election failures.
As always, our public affairs team is available to provide further insights on the items above as well as support your organization’s engagement with the newly elected Ontario government.