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Undoing What Was Done

Thu 15th Nov 2018 Add comment

2018 Fall Economic Statement “A Plan for the People”
 
This afternoon, Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fedeli rose in the Ontario Legislature with his iconic gold tie and delivered the 2018 Fall Economic Statement (FES) named An Act to Enact, Amend and Repeal Various Statutes

To examine the Economic Statement in greater detail click  here.

The FES usually takes place during the months of October or November and is somewhat like a mini-budget or a smaller fiscal equivalent of the State-of-the-Union address that the US President delivers to Congress. The FES is traditionally delivered by the Finance Minister and puts forth the status of the province’s fiscal health. There a number of similarities between the FES delivered in the fall, and the provincial government’s budget that gets tabled in the spring.

While both the FES and the provincial budget examine what the government of the day has accomplished, and what obstacles remain in place, the major difference between the two is that the FES looks in the rear-view mirror, and assesses what the government has done, as opposed to the provincial budget, which looks ahead to what the government of the day will do.

The first FES tabled by the new PC government was rather unique this time around, in that, journalists and members of the Press Gallery underwent a media lockup and embargo. They were forbidden to publish content in the statement before it was read in the house. Media lockups are very common during federal and provincial budgets, but it is hard to recall a time when a lockup took place for a FES.

It may  be argued that the broad overall theme of the FES could be distilled into the concept of “fiscal discipline and belt-tightening”, an about-face from the previous Liberal government’s provincial budget, tabled earlier this year, that focused on “care not cuts”. The Finance Minister was not shy to say that the new PC government will approach the province’s finances the same way a household would manage their budget.

Since elected, the PCs have spent a great deal of political capital pointing out the fiscal mismanagement of the previous Liberal government, and have pledged  to reverse many incumbent policies.  This will not come as a surprise to many, considering Doug Ford announced during his  campaign that he would be cutting $6bn in provincial expenditures.

The FES is also an important time for the government to influence the media channel. Polling has shown that while the PCs maintain the greatest share of public support in the province, many of the announcements and actions have reduced support for the government.

Here are some of the major announcements in this year’s Fall Economic Statement:
  • Minister Fedeli announced that the actions of the government have created $3.2bn in savings while reducing the province’s deficit to $14.5bn (a reduction of $500m).
     
  • The government announced it will be implementing the Low-income Individuals and Families Tax (LIFT) Credit that will affect 1.1m low-income earners in the province. Starting in 2019, workers earning <$30,000.00 will be exempt from paying provincial income tax while those earning up to $38,000.00 will be taxed at a lower rate.
     
  • In addition to shutting down the College of Trades, the PC government has also axed funding for 3 post-secondary campus Expansions in the GTA.
     
  • In an attempt to make efficiencies in government, the PCs will merge the independent offices of the Ontario Child Advocate (established in 2007) with the Ombudsman and merge the office of the Environmental Commissioner (established in 1993) with the Auditor General.
     
  • Twice during his speech, Minister Fedeli stated that the Green Energy Act is being repealed – a statement that drew both cheers and jeers across the aisles.
     
  • The government announced $90m in funding for 1,100 hospital beds across the province.
     
  • According to Minister Fedeli, home heating bills have been lowered and gas prices are down 4 cents a litre.
     
  • As part of the Open for Business Act, the PCs plan to eliminate red tape by 25% by 2022 (no clear definition of ‘red tape’ was provided).
     
  • Although not much was mentioned on the policy area, Minister Fedeli announced that the PC gov will implement a housing supply action plan to help address the problems in the province’s housing market.
     
  • The government also announced that it will take a laissez-faire approach to cross-provincial energy infrastructure.
 
Both the opposition NDP and Third Party OLP chose to focus on the negative impacts that the proposed $1.4bn in cuts will have on those who are already experiencing difficulties. The NDP focused on the government’s labour policies which propose reductions in sick days and removal of the minimum wage. Additionally, the NDP chose to highlight the fact that Indigenous communities and reconciliation were not mentioned in the FES.  OLP Interim Leader John Fraser focused on the lack of support for the Franco-Ontarian community with the closure of a new Franco Ontarian University proposed by the previous government. Both the NDP and the OLP chose to focus on the lack of oversight and accountability the government will experience as a result of the removal of independent legislative offices.

It should be noted that a number of media outlets received an advanced copy of former PC Leader Patrick Brown’s new book Takedown. Excerpts from the book show that Fedeli had “dodged a bullet” with respect to an allegation of “inappropriate behavior” by a female PC staffer. In the following hours, numerous current and former PC staffers and MPPs came to the aid of Minister Fedeli. The allegations do not appear to have hurt the Minister, despite the NDP calling for Premier Ford to usher a third-party investigation, and remove Minister Fedeli from Cabinet until such  investigation is concluded. Members of the PC Caucus demonstrated their support for the Finance Minister by wearing yellow/gold ties and scarves.

Despite criticism, the PCs are well within their electoral mandate to change or reverse the policies of the previous government. 80% of Ontario voters believed that it was time for change, and the PCs are using this time to implement their own policies “for the people”.

Grassroots will be continuously monitoring the hustle and bustle taking place at the Ontario Legislature in the months to come. Stay tuned for more information and analysis!

Adrian Macaulay
 
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