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16 Months and Counting

Mon 6th Feb 2017
By Peter Seemann
While the next scheduled election in Ontario isn’t until June 2018, the campaign drums on all sides are beginning to sound. One consequence of fixed election dates is that everyone involved, from political parties to the pundits who cover them, start counting the days to E-day as soon as they hit the half way point in the current mandate. For the governing Liberals, who are facing voter fatigue after 14 years in power, the pressure is only increasing as they desperately try to find ways to restore trust with the electorate. With the legislature set to resume in a couple of weeks, lets look at what the primary issues will be in the months ahead.

Hydro, Hydro, Hydro

Premier Wynne has been hammered relentlessly on the rising costs of electricity for Ontarians – and the issue will likely dominate until the next election. Last November the premier admitted that the hydro problem was her “mistake” and she took responsibility suggesting that "for not paying close enough attention to some of the daily stresses in Ontarians' lives." While accepting responsibility is one thing, providing meaningful relief is another. Wynne’s first commitment was to drop the HST from all electricity bills starting in January. In addition there has been increased speculation that her government will look to reduce the delivery fees to rural clients, who currently pay much higher rates compared to their ubran counterparts.  The opposition, particularly Patrick Brown and Ontario PC Party, will look for every opportunity to talk about this issue over and over again. It will be interesting to see how things go in the upcoming by-election in Sault Ste. Marie. While the seat has been a Liberal stronghold for many years, the results will be a barometer on the public opinion toward this government. And some speculate that more Liberal held ridings may see their incumbent resign before the next election.

Spring Budget

With budget consultations having wrapped up in January, Finance Minister Charles Sousa is likely working on details for what is anticipated to be a late February or possibly early March budget. You will recall that Premier Wynne committed to balancing the books just in time for next years’ budget and spring election. Their forecast last year called for a modest deficit of $5B in 2017/18. We will know in short order if that projection was accurate. The government has been criticized by many that the only way they can possibly get close to balancing the budget is because of their one time sale of government assets including Hydro One. In some ways it’s ironic that the Wynne government is focused on achieving this goal while at the same time her federal counterparts are running up projected deficits higher than they predicted. The last incumbent government that campaigned on a balanced budget, and actually delivered it before the election, was the Harper conservatives, and it didn’t help them at all in getting re-elected. The Liberals are making a big deal out of the fact that this budget will be the first time that up to $3M will be allocated to fund and implement voter selected proposals. 

Focusing on the Base

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise when the premier intervened and prevented Toronto Mayor John Tory from implementing what he called "necessary road tolls" in and around the city. While Wynne’s decision will obviously cause a rift in her relationship with the mayor, she recognizes her need to hang on to important 416 and 905 ridings and she saw the road toll as something suburbanites wouldn’t like. A poll released today showed strong support towards her decision to eleminate the taxes Don’t expect Wynne to spend much time outside of her urban base and in rural Ontario. While some announcements like last week’s commitment for $100M towards the expansion of natural gas in rural and northern Ontario was well received for those living outside the GTA, I don’t think you will be seeing many more announcements like this from this government. Instead expect an increase in funding for social programs such as healthcare; a topic where Premier Wynne can shift the blame to the feds for not providing enough funding.

While the Wynne government continues to search for ways to win back voter support, the PCs under Patrick Brown, and Andrea Horwath and NDP will be busy trying to inform Ontarians what they stand for and why they would make the best choice for government in 2018. The PCs are coming off a very successful fundraising drive last fall, which saw them eliminate over $7M in party debt. Now with fundraising rules significantly changed, raising money for the next election will be much more difficult for all parties.

The legislature is scheduled to return after Family Day on February 21st. Expect a very lively return with an invigorated opposition ready to score much needed points against a worn down and scandal plagued government. That being said, we know the premier is a fighter and not one to back away from a good political scrap. She will come out swinging and committed to earning back Ontarians trust. If you happened to catch this past weekend’s Super Bowl, you know that anything can happen. Who are your eyes and ears at Queens Park? The team at Grassroots is eager to help you turn your priorities into government priorities.